Crunch Time on Infrastructure

I wanted to update you on what seems to be the state of play on negotiations for an infrastructure bill.

There appears to be some momentum for a purported deal created by the latest bipartisan “gang”, either called the G20 or the ‘problem solvers caucus’. (The first step of bipartisaning is to come up with a cheesy or cloying name.) This is the deal which is rather incongruously labeled as a $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal with $579 of “new spending.” That sounds like a $579 infrastructure deal to me. But let’s set that aside for the moment.

The question the President may soon confront is whether to take this deal, check that bipartisanship box, and then try to pass the rest of the infrastructure agenda through the reconciliation process. In the abstract, that’s a win-win. Those who feel the political need to score a bipartisan accomplishment get that and then the rest of the agenda passes with 50 votes.

But of course it’s not that simple. Democrats worry that they will help pass this paltry mini-bill, largely funded by cannibalizing the Covid relief bill and then folks like Joe Manchin or Kirsten Sinema won’t be there with their 49th and 50th votes for the reconciliation bill. So far they’re not committing to doing so. Indeed, that appears to be part of Republicans’ plan: provide some support for a small traditional infrastructure bill to short-circuit support for the rest of Biden’s agenda.

The Democratic caucus can see this pretty clearly too. So you’re already having people in the Democratic caucus, especially on its leftward flank saying they’ll oppose this or any other ‘gang’ bill unless they have a commitment from Manchin, Sinema et al. that they will definitely be there for the later reconciliation bill.

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The other consideration here is this: do you really want to let Republicans participate in a bill with various roads and bridges spending and make Democrats carry the more demonizable stuff, the very needed but easier to pigeon hole ‘caring economy’, soft infrastructure and tax hikes all on their own? Every big piece of legislation is crafted to contain sweeteners and the vegetables everyone has to eat. This plan seems to be to create one sweetener-only bill for Republicans and a vegetable bill Democrats have to carry all by themselves.

Why do that? The best answer, I think, is that if you can really get all or most of Biden’s agenda, then focusing too much on this annoyance misses the point. You just pass it through whatever means you can while keeping your 50 Senators on side.

We will probably hear a lot in the next work or so about where this is going.

As I noted yesterday, if you’re a member, our Inside Briefing with Adam Jentleson which you can watch here provides more helpful context for what I describe here.

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