Before long, we will find out if the Great Bipartisan Infrastructure Negotiations of 2021 will prove any more fruitful than all the infrastructure talk of the Trump administration. Right now, for all the celebration of a deal between a group of senators and the president last week, it’s looking shaky. First, some Republicans in the bipartisan “gang” threatened to abandon the deal if Biden didn’t walk back an implicit threat to veto an infrastructure bill if it didn’t move “in tandem” with a budget reconciliation bill including the rest of his 2021 agenda. Biden complied over the weekend, saying it was “not my intent” to link the two bills so explicitly.
But this hardly solved the underlying problem for Republicans. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have their own version of the veto: control of the House and Senate floor, and the reality that a majority of House and Senate Democrats have zero interest in an infrastructure bill unless the Democrats participating in the “deal” — particularly Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — have already signed onto at least a clear outline of an infrastructure bill. This was clear long before the “deal” was announced.
With characteristic chutzpah, Mitch McConnell is all but telling Democrats they cannot have both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a partisan reconciliation bill, regardless of the timing.
“Unless Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi walk back their threats that they will refuse to send the president a bipartisan infrastructure bill unless they also separately pass trillions of dollars for unrelated tax hikes, wasteful spending, and Green New Deal socialism, then President Biden’s walk-back of his veto threat would be a hollow gesture,” McConnell said in a statement, as the Hill reports.
From the echoes he is already getting from his conference, it is clear McConnell wants to head off a situation where Republicans help Democrats pass an infrastructure bill and then helplessly watch as Democrats have their cake and eat it too with a reconciliation bill that requires no Republican votes. But he really doesn’t hold any cards. If Senate Democrats can reach agreement on a reconciliation bill — essentially, if Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin can reach agreement on a reconciliation bill — then it’s a done deal, leaving Republicans to decide if they want to deep-six the infrastructure bill out of spite.
In that event, of course, Democrats could just add the discarded provisions of the deal (or more expansive provisions, actually) to the pending reconciliation bill and blame Republicans for leaving them no alternative. Manchin and Sinema (and the president, for that matter) could point to the repudiated deal with more sadness than anger as their good-faith effort at bipartisanship. And without a doubt centrist Democratic senators would take credit for making the reconciliation bill less expensive and controversial that it would have been had they not exerted some leverage.
It’s unclear how this series of events would serve Republican purposes more than the alternative path of taking credit for the infrastructure deal, claiming it’s enough for 2021, and then happily voting against every “socialist” bill Pelosi and Schumer bring to the floor before the 2022 midterms. Perhaps McConnell is as impatient with the febrile rituals of bipartisanship as are Democratic progressives, and would prefer to follow his traditional strategy of total obstruction. If so, he should just pronounce the infrastructure deal dead and save us all a lot of time.