The whole premise on which the celebration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill rests is that even in these polarized times, donkeys and elephants can put aside their tribal allegiances and joyfully build roads and bridges and spread the blessings of the internet to unenlightened corners of America. In truth, the infrastructure bill has always been a Democratic construct. But because its most avid proponents, centrist Democrats, are seeking bipartisan cover for electioneering purposes, at least nominal Republican support has been crucial to the whole enterprise. Democrats, after all, could have simply tossed infrastructure investments, perhaps at more robust levels, into the FY 2022 budget-reconciliation bill they hope to pass at some point this year, and denied Republicans partial credit.
So there was great rejoicing in Centrist Democratic circles and in the still-numerous media outlets where bipartisanship is considered the queen of all virtues when 19 Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell himself, voted for the infrastructure bill on August 10. Fully 30 Senate Republicans voted against it, of course, but that got little attention.
As days grow shorter, the infrastructure bill is famously stuck in the House. There is a perfect Chinese finger-cuff situation between Democrats wherein centrists refuse to support the vast and critical budget reconciliation bill that contains much of Joe Biden’s agenda until the infrastructure bill passes the House, and progressives refuse to support the infrastructure bill until reconciliation passes both Houses. In order to get the budget resolution passed that authorizes said reconciliation bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised centrists a floor vote (not a victory, mind you, but a floor vote) on the infrastructure bill by September 27 (she has now formally scheduled that vote for September 27, while saying it could slip to the next day). Some progressives, insisting as they have all along that reconciliation must come first, are pledging to vote against the infrastructure bill when it does come up.
This being a “bipartisan” initiative and all, you’d figure House Republican might come to the aid of the bill by supplying enough votes to offset progressive defections (assuming that Pelosi and the bulk of non-ideological Democrats will vote for a bill that Joe Biden has taken significant credit for negotiating). But as Punchbowl News reports, Republicans are fleeing from the bill as quickly as they can:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said this last night: “Before, there were some that were really looking at it [the bipartisan infrastructure bill.] Then after the Democrat mods collapsed, a lot of them said they weren’t going to [vote for it] because it’s viewed as one bill now. And so, they don’t want to add another [$]5 trillion.”
Let us translate McCarthy for you: Very few Republicans are going to vote for infrastructure, and he’ll nudge his party in that direction.
To be clear, if Republicans did save the infrastructure bill, they would greatly enhance the possibility that Democratic centrists, who would have happily eaten their dessert, would remain picky about the green leafy vegetables of the reconciliation bill, perhaps delaying it indefinitely or tanking it entirely. This is why, of course, Pelosi and progressives in both Houses linked the infrastructure bill to reconciliation in the first place. That McCarthy is actively working against Republican support for the bill is attributable to two things: the obstructionist habit that has become a real addiction for Republicans during Democratic presidencies, and the opposition to this deal and any other deals he didn’t himself design by the 45th president, who is McCarthy’s actual lord and master.
More fundamentally, the “bipartisanship” of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is being exposed as a fraud. It’s a Democratic bill with limited and largely contingent Republican support, which is now being withdrawn at the most crucial moment. I’m not sure how Democrats will get out of this jam without killing the far more important reconciliation bill and cruising into the midterms with sails on fire and masts crumbling. But however they try to do it, they must do it alone.