As you’ve likely seen, President Biden put out a statement yesterday to settle the waters over the mostly pretextual Republican freakout over his saying he’d only sign both the bipartisan mini-infrastructure deal and a larger reconciliation (i.e., 50 vote) package. A lot of people rushed forward to claim vindication that Biden had in fact turned the tables on Republicans or “upended” the deal by some last minute switcheroo. That’s not the case. It’s really better seen as a nicely crafted bit of snowflake therapy. In Biden’s new statement he restates what was clear a week ago, clear three days ago and remains clear today: for him it’s a package deal.
Indeed, there are only Democratic votes for a package deal. What he doesn’t do in his new statement is state the matter as what Senate Republicans chose to interpret, not altogether unreasonably, as a veto threat. But Biden doesn’t have to. That’s the magic of control of both houses of Congress. You don’t have to choose. The bills won’t even get a vote or make their way to Biden’s desk unless it’s a package deal.
The entire issue here, the entire core of the negotiation, actually has nothing to do with Republicans. It’s about negotiations and agreements between Democrats. The only reason Republicans are even involved in one of the two parts of the package is as a way to secure a deal among Democrats – specifically between Biden, Chuck Schumer and Manchin and Sinema.
Indeed, in his statement Biden makes the heart of the matter really clear. Linkage – the idea that both bills must happen together to gain the President’s support, or indeed the support of congressional Democrats – has nothing to do with Republicans. It doesn’t rely on their votes. It asks nothing of them. It’s an agreement between Democrats about legislation Republicans universally oppose. That’s the awkwardness of the Republicans’ position. They can’t point to any pledge Biden has reneged on or new condition he’s placed on them.
Like a number of other big wheel publications, The New York Times has leaned into Republicans’ puffed up plaints, even going so far as including the by-now notorious handwringing of Sen. Susan Collins: “We never had an inkling that there would be any kind of linkage.”
Byron York meanwhile got it half right when he said Biden’s statement “hasn’t really clarified anything, probably because he said what he meant the first time.” He did say what he meant the first. He also said what he meant the second time. Indeed, he said basically the same thing both times, only in a slightly different way. Which only reminds us that this entire brouhaha is semantic, pretextual and fundamentally made up.
I’ve been increasingly critical of the White House’s strategy in recent weeks. But everything that has happened in the past week has been a big win for the President and more importantly a big win for his infrastructure and fiscal policy agenda.