Biden's Infrastructure Week Is No Joke

[ Posted Wednesday, March 31st, 2021 – 16:32 UTC ]

During the presidency of Donald Trump, the term "infrastructure week" became a running joke. Team Trump would tee up some big infrastructure event or announcement (in the hopes of driving the media narrative), but then the team captain would just self-destruct in front of everyone, derailing any hope of actually achieving anything meaningful. The first time this happened -- although few now remember it as the first infrastructure week fiasco -- was at a press announcement event with Trump's secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao. There were a few dog-and-pony props set up, and Chao made her announcement, which mostly dealt with cutting what Republicans consider onerous rules and regulations, in order to move things like highway projects forward faster with less red tape. After her presentation was over, though, Trump took the podium and was soon asked by a journalist about the other big story of the day: the violent and deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and people opposed to white supremacy. Few may remember the context, but everyone remembers what happened next -- Trump's: "very fine people on both sides" rant. That was the first infrastructure week under Trump.

Subsequent infrastructure week attempts were made, many of them featuring Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer treating Trump at the bargaining table like the small child he mentally is. Then Pelosi and Schumer would appear in front of the microphones on the White House lawn while Trump sulked inside. This is why the very phrase "infrastructure week" became such a joke -- because it almost always foreshadowed some Trumpian grand tantrum or meltdown to come.

Now, of course, we have an actual adult as president. And President Joe Biden just showed us all how infrastructure week should be done. There's no better way to put it than to say that Biden's infrastructure week is no joke. It is, in fact, the real deal.

Personally, I am still sifting through the details of what Biden's first proposal contains For anyone interested, the Washington Post has a pretty good breakdown of what is in the plan. So I'm not going to address specifics today (but I will, once I understand the plan a little better). Instead, I'd like to take a look at the politics of it all.

First, the overall timing of the plan's introduction was carefully planned. Since the first of the year, the House of Representatives has moved the fastest and Speaker Pelosi has made her agenda plain by the number (and the order of the) bills she has already passed. Chuck Schumer is lagging, because the Senate moves more slowly and (importantly) he has had to deal with one big duty the House doesn't have -- confirming all of Biden's hundreds of nominees (to his cabinet as well as other key jobs).

Biden, on the other hand, moved incredibly quickly on signing dozens of executive orders, but almost all of them merely overturned some odious (and usually hateful) policy change made by Trump. For the most part, these all just got us back to the status quo ante, really. Biden's real agenda was to first pass the emergency pandemic relief bill, which he very successfully (and, as these things go, very quickly) signed into law. While the $15 minimum wage hike didn't make the final cut, virtually everything else Biden asked for did -- a rather stunningly progressive giant leap forward on all kinds of fronts, really. So while it was just one single bill, it accomplished a lot and will have positive repercussions for years to come.

After it passed, however, Biden was urged by all and sundry to address a number of diverse issues facing both the country at large and his administration in particular. After two senseless mass shootings (for instance), gun safety legislation moved to the top of many Democrats' priority lists. And that's just one example, out of quite a few.

Biden, however, kept to his own timetable. Rather than pushing any of the rest of his agenda items, he put his energy into the biggest one (at least, in terms of dollars) -- a massive infrastructure bill. Which is exactly where we are today.

Trump was actually right, during his 2016 campaign -- America truly has needed an infusion of spending to shore up our aging infrastructure, for a long time. But Trump never took it beyond a slogan -- sometimes he was for everything the Democrats wanted (much to the horror of the Republican congressional leaders), and sometimes he refused to even talk to Pelosi and Schumer. Either way, nothing got done (unless you count the increase in output of jokes by late-night comedians and political pundits about "infrastructure week").

Biden has a far different plan. He's got several clear paths to success on the issue, and it will indeed prove to be a test of whether bipartisanship in Congress is even possible any more. No matter what the answer to that turns out to be, it could influence the rest of this year in a big way. Because if Republican cooperation isn't even possible on a roads-and-bridges bill, then bipartisanship is officially dead in the Senate and you might as well get rid of the filibuster now -- because that is going to be the only way for Biden to get anything at all done. So what happens with this plan is going to be important for all the other ones.

Biden even made it easier for Republicans to get on board. He is splitting his infrastructure plan into two parts, one of which is (mostly) pretty traditional stuff, with a much bigger emphasis on climate change and clean energy. But still, things that Republicans could conceivably vote for. The tax hikes in this portion will all fall on corporate America, not individuals, which may make it (slightly) easier to attract GOP support. All the most contentious parts of Biden's plan -- all the things that Republicans will sneer at as "social engineering" (or whatever buzzword they settle on this time), as well as all the tax hikes on wealthy individuals -- will go into a second, companion bill that will be designed to pass the Senate using the budget reconciliation process (which eliminates the possibility of a filibuster). So, in a nutshell, the bill Biden unveiled today is designed to possibly get bipartisan support in the Senate, while the second bill doesn't even attempt such a thing and will be a completely Democratic partisan effort.

This is good politics. But it will be even better politics if Biden does exactly what he did on the COVID-19 relief bill -- give Republicans a very limited amount of time to have input on the bill, but then threaten to walk away if they are not making an honest good-faith effort. Both bills -- even the one pitched as a bipartisan bill -- could easily make it through using budget reconciliation, after all.

This puts Biden in an extremely strong bargaining position, because all he will have to do is secure all the votes from his own side of the Senate aisle to get all of it passed. So the negotiations with Republicans should go something like this:

"OK, the clock is ticking, let's see your plan, or your revisions to ours. But if you bring me something pathetically inadequate to the challenge -- as you did on the pandemic relief bill -- or if you cannot guarantee 10 Republican votes in the Senate for your plan, then we are just going to pass what we have as written. If you'd like to have input and alter some of the bill, we will only consider such changes if you publicly pledge to vote for it afterwards. If you decide not to vote for it, then we will just throw out all of your suggestions and pass our own bill, and you can explain to your voters why you voted against it and had no say in its design. You've got three weeks to come up with something, but then we're just going to move forward, with or without you."

Biden has already proven once that he is too adept at this game to get suckered into the rabbit hole of endless negotiations with no actual bipartisan support at the end (as, indeed, Biden saw happen on Obamacare). Such tilting at windmills does nothing but waste time, in the end -- a lesson Biden seems to have learned very well.

So it will be interesting to hear the Republican reaction to Biden's first proposal from people like Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins. They are going to have to take the lead if any bipartisanship is even possible. And, as always, they'll have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous demands, made by the more hotheaded members of their own party, to do so.

Biden's rollout went well today, and so far the bill has been fairly well received. But what happens next is going to be crucial. Not so much for this bill itself (which, again, could be wrapped into a budget reconciliation bill and pass with only Democratic votes), but for the entire rest of the year and beyond. Either Biden's dream of bipartisan cooperation will prove to be much more viable than most people now think, or the cries to eliminate the legislative filibuster are going to become impossible for Biden to ignore -- if he wants to get anything else done at all.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “Biden's Infrastructure Week Is No Joke”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Very nice!

    Because I've been so into US politics for so long and so hoping to see Biden in the Oval Office for the better part of the last two decades, I haven't paid a lot of attention to what he's doing since becoming president, mostly because I don't have to! Not with these excellent pieces and knowing that Biden is now where he should be for the next eight years and no one on the planet knows more about how to get good things done in this role than him, so ...

    Call me an extremely happy camper!!! :-)

  2. [2] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Very interesting piece. You're the first one to explain to me about the split bill, with the split tax funding/targeting, and the likely reasons for it.

    Some other commentary I've been reading has been focusing, not on Biden's political mastery as here, but on already-evident Democratic squabbling about this and that in the bills, each squabble representing peril to the eventual use of budget reconciliation for passage, not to even mention a deal about the filibuster.

    Another angle that occurred to me, as I read your piece, was that the split infrastructure bill may also be bait to force the Republicans to prove that they will block any bill coming from this Congress, period - so that the Senate leadership and the president can reasonably demand that the Senate hold-outs must agree that the filibuster has to go.

    And in the to-do about all that, the infrastructure bill may go down the tubes, or half of it as you say. But the result will be that S.1, the voting rights bill, will be the first to soar past the corpse of the filibuster. And in my opinion, if Biden or the Senate leaders were to pick which bill it is absolutely necessary that they pass this year, it would be the voting rights bill, not the infrastructure one.

    Because without the voting rights bill passed and getting past the Supreme Court challenges, the Democratic Party is going to have a heck of a time winning future Congressional majorities, and passing future re-tries on infrastructure, climate, healthcare, Court reform, new states, etc.

  3. [3] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Except for the marijuana firings, Biden has so far surpassed my expectations and my hopes. Does anyone remember last summer and how many progressives were saying Biden was too bland to command support in the election and too mired in the past to be effective even if he won? No, we said, not Biden: we needed someone more dynamic, someone who had proved themselves equal to the challenges of today, someone more like Andrew Cuomo.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Yeah, I remember. Andrew Cuomo would have been good. Ahem.

    And, Biden is just really getting started. I may have mentioned that this presidency thing is in his blood and rushes through his veins, all in a very good way. He is truly the peoples' politician.

    There's more than enough trouble ahead for his administration but there is no one on the planet more capable of dealing with whatever comes his way than Biden.

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    anyone who thought that about andrew cuomo doesn't know him.


  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Just heard my favourite president say that this time will be remembered by historians as the moment that America, ah, won the future.

    I remember what happened to the Obama/Biden slogan, Win The Future - it became my Poker Stars moniker, number one and, number two, that administration stopped using it around the time they figured out what the acronym was ... Heh.

  7. [7] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Great summation!

    The only thing I would add is that the Dems from Biden on down are missing the opportunity to point out how other countries in the "Americas" have better infrastructure and roads (not all of them, mostly the well established ones, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador...).

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Well, we great mass of disappointed Progressives, we Warrenistas & Bernie Bros & DSA Fellow Travelers reserved judgement and came out for Joe in a big way.

    It appears that Joe is rewarding our, er, faith/cautious optimism/Never Trumpism. Yes, the MSM will keep beating the "Dems in Disarray" drums -- the tired "politics as blood sport" shtick -- but I think (hope!) Joe is maneuvering the Repugs into a corner.

    In short, Joe seems good at politics.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i can't imagine how someone who has been in the senate for over 50 years might be good at politics...


  10. [10] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Great article! Thank you for pointing out the two different ways Biden is going to push his infrastructure policies through and the reasons for each. This is something I haven’t seen reported anywhere else as clearly as you did it... great job!


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