In what represented the culmination of one complex legislative maneuver over his agenda and the beginning of another, President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of centrist senators announced the basics of a “deal” (as the president called it) on a $579 billion infrastructure package Thursday. According to the New York Times: “$312 billion would go to transportation projects, $65 billion to broadband and $55 billion to waterways. A large sum, $47 billion, is earmarked for ‘resilience’ — a down payment on Mr. Biden’s promise to deal with the impact of climate change.”
Enough Republicans (11, in fact) signed onto the deal to overcome a conservative filibuster, assuming Senate Democrats support it as well. A lot of details remain to be worked out, as the New York Times reports:
It is expected to be paid for with a suite of revenue increases that do not violate either Mr. Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class or Republicans’ red line of not reversing business tax cuts passed under President Donald J. Trump in 2017, though the details of the revenue sources have not yet been finalized.
“We’ve agreed on the price tag, the scope, and how to pay for it,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.
The scope is narrow in terms of what Democrats mean by “infrastructure,” which suggests that leftover categories of spending would be shifted to an upcoming budget-reconciliation bill that can be passed without Republican votes in the Senate. And there’s the rub: Democrats are reluctant to accept the bipartisan deal unless their party’s centrists, like Joe Manchin, pre-commit to a reconciliation bill that includes robust climate-change provisions alongside key elements of Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. So the bipartisan negotiations (assuming the deal hangs together) are just a prelude to partisan negotiations:
Top Democrats have made it clear that the plan, which constitutes a fraction of the $4 trillion economic proposal Mr. Biden has put forth, can only move in tandem with a much larger package of spending and tax increases that Democrats are planning to try to push through Congress unilaterally, over the opposition of Republicans.
The two-track strategy promises to be a heavy lift for Democrats in a Congress where they have only the thinnest of majorities, and moderates and progressives have very different priorities.
And the intra-Democratic discussions just ahead are by no means limited to the Senate, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear today:
So today’s announcement is (to paraphrase Churchill) not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning, when it comes to the process of acting on Biden’s agenda. What has been accomplished so far is an opportunity for the president to redeem his much-mocked pledge to restore bipartisanship in Congress, albeit on a limited piece of legislation. But now he and his entire party will have to convince Manchin and a few like-minded Senate Democrats to resist Republican arguments that the stimulus bill enacted in March and a narrow infrastructure bill are enough action for 2021.