When someone is laying an obvious trap, there’s always an option to avoid it.
Unless, of course, you are the Democratic Party as it exists in the mind of the GOP.
Several Republican senators, columnists, and others are playing the victim this week after Democrats headed off an attempt from the Republicans to block Biden’s agenda.
They did that by yoking the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill to the passage of a reconciliation bill — in theory heading off a GOP strategy that would let a bipartisan bill through while allowing Democratic infighting to kill a second, follow-up bill that would contain Biden’s priorities.
“If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) complained to Politico, adding about Republicans who wish to continue: “There’s no way. You look like a fucking idiot now.”
Biden has had to jump through a few hoops in the long-running but crucial talks that will determine whether he can implement a large part of his plan to transform the country’s physical and human infrastructure.
Partly thanks to a condition set by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the White House needed a bipartisan deal on infrastructure before anything else could go through.
That gave the GOP an opening: why not cram all of the sweeteners into a bipartisan deal, and leave more politically tough items, like tax increases and health care changes, to reconciliation?
This would have allowed vulnerable GOP senators to reap the benefits of a bipartisan infrastructure package, while leaving the rest of Biden’s agenda to founder on corralling 50 Democratic senators to vote for a package containing tax increases and policies on which there is intra-party disagreement.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) outlined that strategy to Politico last week, explaining that he believed “it’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for” tax increases, particularly “if you do do something bipartisan.”
“Then, I think, doing something partisan on reconciliation — in some ways, with certain Democrats — it gets a lot harder,” he added.
That was based on the idea that centrists like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) would get cold feet. But events this week suggest that that was a miscalculation.
Manchin signaled support for tax increases and suggested he would back a second reconciliation bill as a way to do it.
“Republicans have drawn a line in the sand on not changing anything, and I thought the 2017 tax bill was a very unfair bill, and weighted to a side that basically did not benefit the average American. So I voted against it,” he told NBC. “I think there are some adjustments that need to be made.”
Then, on Thursday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Biden further corralled centrist Dems, shortly after a bipartisan group of senators with enough Republican support to clear a filibuster reached a deal: The House would only take up, and Biden would only sign, a bipartisan deal if it is passed simultaneously with a reconciliation package.
This led to a hilarious sequence of events in which the bipartisan group released a statement supporting the infrastructure framework as senior GOP officials began to realize what happened.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), a GOP supporter of the bipartisan bill, reportedly began to try to have it both ways, “seeking assurances” that Democrats would not try to use reconciliation to pass entirely separate legislation.
It fell, of course, to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to really serve up the sense of victimhood and betrayal that began to permeate GOP members of Congress, once they realized what had happened.
“It almost makes your head spin,” McConnell said. “An expression of bipartisanship and then an ultimatum on behalf of your left-wing base.”
He added, referring to Biden’s statement that he would sign reconciliation in “tandem” with a bipartisan bill: “Really, caving completely in less than two hours, that’s not the way to show you’re serious about getting a bipartisan outcome.”
Since then, only Graham has definitively pulled his support from the bill.
But the conservative victimization-outrage-grievance complex has kicked into full gear, with an obligatory Wall Street Journal editorial calling it a “bipartisan double cross” and McConnell telling Fox News later in the day that “we have gone from optimism to pessimism as a result of the president’s second press conference,” again referring to Biden’s commitment to only sign a bipartisan bill once a reconciliation package had already cleared Congress.
It’s a strategy that could gin up an atmosphere that would allow GOP senators to kill the bipartisan deal, claiming that they were somehow, improbably, duped.
But others have been less whiny about the process.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told CNBC on Friday morning that he had assumed from the start that Democrats would aim for a reconciliation package alongside the bipartisan bill.
“Democrats are going to move forward with a broad reconciliation bill with a lot of tax increases, regardless,” he said.
He also boasted that the bipartisan deal, in his view, still retained all the sweeteners and no unpopular policies like tax increases.
“None of that is in this package,” he added.