Today, President Biden announced he agreed to a bipartisan infrastructure deal with the support of a substantial number of both Democratic and Republican Senators. The bipartisan group of Senators is composed of 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Republican Mitt Romney (R-UT) being two of the most well-known members of the Senators who worked the agreement with the White House.
The bipartisan group of 21 Senators had been really close to reaching a final deal over the last few days and today’s meeting with the President was crucial to the final survivability of the bill. With Biden’s endorsement and the support of enough Republican Senators to defeat a hypothetical filibuster, the deal (which has yet to be released to the public) has good chances to survive the murky and usually dangerous waters of Congress.
Although most details of the deal have yet to be released, it appears that the bipartisan group has agreed on the three fundamental issues that have kept an infrastructure bill: its scope, its price tag, and how to fund it, with GOP Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) saying that “it was difficult to get agreement on all three, but it was essential”
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the deal would include $579 billion in new spending (including roads, bridges, etc) which when added to baseline spending would push the total price tag of the bill to $973 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion over eight. According to the outline, the bill would be funded via public-private partnerships, enhanced tax collection by the IRS, among other methods that would not effectively end the tax cuts from Trump’s 2017 bill, which was a red line for Republicans.
Parallel Reconciliation bill could torpedo the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal
Just because Biden met with a large group of Senators does not mean that the bill has automatically passed both Houses of Congress. The tight margins in both the House and the Senate mean that even a tiny minority of loud progressive lawmakers can obstruct the passage of any bipartisan deal, as any deal would need all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to agree in order to survive any filibuster.
The problem the bill faces is that there is a significant outcry by the more radical wing of the Democratic party over the whole bipartisan approach taken on the issue of Infrastructure, with progressive Senators, Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) saying they would oppose any legislation that does not include a massive government spending on climate-friendly technologies.
Markey’s and Merkley positions illustrate the complicated position of the slim Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress, even if the President has agreed to a project, a small but loud group of progressives can derail the whole bill if they think that the legislation does not go far enough as they would like to. Meaning that Democrats would have to both keep their word on the bipartisan infrastructure deal stroke with Republicans, while also trying to convince radical Democrats to support a compromise bill.
It appears that Democrats will try to do this by passing an expensive reconciliation bill parallel to the bipartisan infrastructure deal negotiated in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would only put the infrastructure bill up for a vote in the House if a complimentary (and partisan) reconciliation bill is also passed, a sentiment shared by the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who said that “we won’t get enough votes to pass either unless we have enough votes to pass both”.
Both Pelosi and Schumer calculate that by tying a reconciliation bill with the bipartisan infrastructure deal, they would be able to guarantee all Democrats to vote for the larger bill since they would also get an extra bill that would ensure funding for issues that the original bill does not address, aiming to quell any potential progressive outrage over the compromise bill.
However, this approach might bring significant opposition from the GOP and torpedo the initial deal, as they could argue that Democrats are trying to “take the cake and eat it too”, as they could accuse Democrats of trying to pack the reconciliation bill with all the policies they allegedly compromised on the bipartisan deal, especially if the reconciliation bill includes tax hikes that would effectively overturn the 2017 tax cut. As of the moment, this article was written, McConnell has not said if he supports or opposes the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
This strategy might also find opposition within the Democratic party itself, as maverick Senator Joe Manchin has said he will not support the reconciliation bill until he actually heard what’s in it. A single vote against any reconciliation bill would doom its passage on the Senate, as Democrats effectively hold a one-vote margin over the GOP in the upper chamber.
This dilemma regarding the reconciliation bill encapsulates the strenuous position of the Democratic Party in Congress right now, any deal that could satisfy the Joe Manchin or Synemas of their Caucus would probably be opposed by the likes of Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
It is almost universally accepted that America badly needs investment to repair its infrastructure, hopefully, the majority of senators who want to get things done will get the bill over the finish line and overrule those radicals who would prefer to get nothing done rather than compromise a little bit.