Last Chance For Bipartisanship

[ Posted Monday, May 24th, 2021 – 15:42 UTC ]

It's infrastructure week again, down at the Republicans' Last Chance Saloon. One week from today is Memorial Day, which is the deadline President Joe Biden set to see some sort of substantial progress on a bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress. If such progress is not achieved by the time of the summer-opening picnics, then Democrats will begin moving on their own to use the Senate's budget reconciliation provision to pass both of the big Biden proposals (the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan). The clock is ticking, in other words, with one week to go.

Of course, Biden's deadline was self-imposed and rather vague. He didn't say a drafted bill or even a good-faith agreement was actually necessary, just that substantial progress be made towards those goals. So he can define defeat or victory pretty much how he chooses. Compared to the COVID relief package, there has already been a lot more substantial progress in bipartisan talks. But no agreement is in sight, and the two sides are pretty far apart with only one week remaining.

Republicans made one offer and haven't really budged from it. The White House started with an initial offer of $2.3 trillion and then proposed only $1.7 trillion, but the Republicans' offer is far below it. Most report that the GOP offer is $568 billion, but that is not exactly true. Biden is proposing increased spending, while much of the GOP offer is spending that would almost certainly happen anyway. The new spending the GOP is proposing is more on the order of $200 billion. That's an entire order of magnitude lower than what Biden wants.

The two sides aren't even close on how they'll pay for their respective plans, either, and neither side seems likely to budge at all. Republicans have drawn a line in the sand over the Trump tax cuts they passed a few years ago, and have sworn not to accept a single change in them. Instead, they are incredibly vague about how they'll pay for their rather small plan -- through mostly-unspecified "user fees." Which could mean raising the gas tax, even if they are frightened to admit that part of it. One wonders how many Republicans in Congress would ever actually vote for a gas tax hike, meaning they likely don't even have the support they'd need to pass such a bill. If not a gas tax, this would at the very least mean a whole lot of tolls on the new roads and bridges, one would have to assume. Republicans are telling the public: "We'll build you better roads and bridges, but you're going to have to pay to use them."

Biden, on the other hand, has sworn not to increase taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year. Gas taxes would definitely count, as far as he's concerned, so that's a non-starter for him. Instead, he'd raise corporate taxes to cover the costs. Which is a non-starter for the Republicans.

It is hard to see how any sort of middle ground can ever be achieved between these two positions. And the actual cost of the plans is still so widely different it seems unlikely that that gap will ever be successfully bridged, either. Biden might go as low as perhaps $1.2 trillion or so, but that's twice what Republicans have proposed and would likely be too much to get the necessary 10 votes in the Senate.

All of this is painfully obvious, one week out. But the Kabuki theater must play out until the end, in order to convince Senator Joe Manchin that bipartisanship just is not possible with the current Republican Party.

The real question is going to be whether Biden sticks to his timeline or not. Will he shrug his shoulders next Monday and say, "Oh, well, I tried... but failure is not an option, let's move forward with just Democrats," or will the Republican negotiators somehow convince him that a deal could be achieved if they just had a little more time? This "big stall" tactic has worked wonders for the GOP in the past, but Biden remembers a few key instances of this happening when he was vice president, so he should know the signs.

Biden shocked many by how fast he moved on the COVID plan. He did move quickly to reconciliation and he got the bill on his desk in record time. So he knows full well it can work, and work wonders. If he publicly throws in the towel on bipartisanship next Monday, look for this effort to get underway immediately, in other words, as some congressional Democrats are already champing at the bit to get some more stuff accomplished as soon as possible.

If reconciliation becomes the only route, Biden's two plans will likely be merged together. Right now they would cost roughly $4 trillion, but Biden has already shown flexibility so it wouldn't surprise me if that number came down a bit ($3.5 trillion, maybe?). But everything will be wrapped up into one bill so there would only be one vote on it (and it would fit in better with the arcane Senate budget rules).

How fast it would come together is anyone's guess, but it'll likely be at least mid-June or July before any votes actually happen. And Congress has a whole lot else on its plate to deal with, so if the bill passed by July 4th, that would actually be pretty fast work.

The question everyone has at this point is whether Biden will fire the starting gun for this effort next Monday. The bipartisan negotiations have already gotten mired down in ideology, over how to raise the revenue. It's not a matter of just adjusting the numbers, in other words, where one side goes up and the other comes down and they meet somewhere in the middle. There really isn't such an easy "middle" between hiking the gas tax and hiking corporate tax rates. And both sides are pretty absolutist on the question -- neither one seems inclined to allow what the other wants at all.

So my educated guess is that next week Biden will (more in sorrow than in anger, of course) announce that the talks have deadlocked and, as he has always said, failure is not an option. Democrats will pass a bill on their own if Republicans aren't serious about doing so. Hopefully Joe Manchin will agree, and get on board. At this point, that really seems like the only way anything is going to get done. And, as usual, virtually the entire public is just not going to care how it all happens -- just whether it does or not.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “Last Chance For Bipartisanship”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Nice summary!

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Democrats will pass a bill on their own if Republicans aren't serious about doing so. Hopefully Joe Manchin will agree, and get on board. At this point, that really seems like the only way anything is going to get done.

    Those are some disappointing word choices Chris. C'mon man.

    Hopefully Joe Manchin will agree, and get on board.

    He's not an idiot. He understands the GQP as well as we do. It'd be just as easy for him to join them and make his life easier and his seat more secure.

  3. [3] 
    John From Censornati wrote:


    How's everybody feeling about Darth Cheney's daughter and her truth, justice, and the American way project today?

  4. [4] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Enough already on the bipartisanship.

    Bipartisanship has not worked for decades and deserves no more chances.

    Forget the last chance- give it last rites.

    Bipartisanship has delivered us one big money party masquerading as two and death and destruction at home and abroad.

    A good example would be the Crime of the Century movie on HBO.

    And that is bipartisanship in an nutshell. It's the same for just about every issue from healthcare to income inequality to the War on Habitat- big money in politics means people die and available, affordable solutions are not implemented.

    Stop blowing smoke up our ass about how Biden and the Deathocrats are wonderful because the Republikillers are worse.

    "Now is not the time for half-measures. Now is not the time for timidity."

    If you mean that then you will inform citizens about One Demand and other alternatives to the Bipartisan Lie that you have been spreading propaganda for.

    You will remove yourself from the cult and begin to fight against it.

    If you don't then you are an accessory to the Crime of the Century against democracy, our country, it's citizens and the citizens of the rest of the world that the bipartisan system is perpetrating.

    Grow a pair.

    Wake up. Wise up. Rise up.

    Your Lie's up.

    Get Real.

    Get Credible.

    Get Integrity.

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Re " . . getting mired down in ideology over how to raise the revenue."

    Regardless of what 'gets done', I'm betting the revenue will be "raised" on the back of the Fed Res Bank's balance sheet - (i.e., created out of thin air.)

    There are inevitable consequences that flow from that system, probably too complicated for this audience to worry about.

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i think you'll find us very knowledgeable about debt and inflation.

  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    I'd love to believe that, but we're in trouble already. There ain't no "debt" involved in financing with Fed Res monetary inflation money.

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    moosepoop. financing a huge national debt caused the holocaust.

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    or rather, caused the printing of excess deutschmarks, which caused hyperinflation, which created enough desperate germans to buy the insanity the nazis were selling.

  10. [10] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    There are two ways to finance a fiscal deficit. Monetary inflation (defined as raising the ratio of money in circulation to goods and services in the marketplace) is one of those two ways, but it does NOT involve 'debt', because it does not involve borrowing, AND it will therefore never need to be 'repaid'.

    Your claim that monetary inflation "caused the holocaust", and played a role in causing the German people to buy into the notion that Jews caused all their problems, is a real stretch, and subject to debate, and is an indication of economics naivete on your part.

  11. [11] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i appreciate your argument, as it forces me to be more precise in my language, but you're incorrect about my economics knowledge and you're showing that you don't know the history (hey old timer, weren't you there?). the debt that caused the holocaust was due to the treaty of versailles at the end of the great war. if not for the debt, there'd have been no need for the money to be printed in the first place. furthermore, a large part of the nazi narrative was that the war loss and the treaty (and therefore the debt as well) occurred due to a betrayal by german jews. that narrative existed prior to the hyperinflation, but was certainly strengthened by it. If you're not in the mood to stipulate, i'll gather up some of the mountain of evidence to that effect. no, it certainly wasn't the only cause of the holocaust, but it was absolutely one of the main causes.

    the united states currently has a debt of over 28 trillion (about ten times what it was in 1990 and five times what it was in 2000). Financing this debt costs almost ten percent of our nation's revenue. you're right that i improperly conflated cause and effect, but the two are inexorably linked.


  12. [12] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    The Treaty of Versailles debt represented "war reparations" imposed on the losers by the winners. It was basically stupid of the winners to impose all that, because Germany could never pay, so they essentially defaulted it.

    I'm not sufficiently qualified to comment much on the causes/reasons for all the antisemitism that has existed for all of history, and I've never heard that Hitler blamed the Jews for losing WWI, altho I'd neere say he didn't.

    However, back to financing budget deficits by monetary inflation, there is no debt involved in the creation of money out of thin air.

    The alternative to monetary inflation as a means of financing budget deficits (borrowing from individuals or foreign govt's) does indeed involve debt, which has to be repaid or defaulted, plus interest which has to be paid by American taxpayers, but currency inflation is not debt in any normal sense.

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