A Successful Endgame Emerges

[ Posted Thursday, June 24th, 2021 – 15:03 UTC ]

After months of breathless anticipation, a path forward just hove into sight. The legislative endgame for a major portion of President Joe Biden's agenda is now in view. And -- surprise! -- it looks like a bipartisan infrastructure deal will actually be a part of it. I fully admit I was wrong about this one, because I have been cynically calling the entire negotiating process Kabuki theater and I would have put the odds of failure much higher than the odds of success. But today, Biden publicly appeared with the Republicans who have been negotiating with him and the Democrats, and he formally put his seal of approval on the last-ditch offer the Republicans just made. By doing so, Biden opens the door to having two successful bills arrive on his desk, one with 10 or more Republican senators' votes and the other passed on strictly partisan lines. As I've been saying all along, the American people just do not care about the process, so this whole exercise was pretty pointless, to me, but it now at least it looks like it's going to be successful.

At present, most of the specifics of what Biden and the GOP senators agreed to have still not been made public, so we can get into the relative merits of it at a later date. Here's what Politico is reporting about it, at this point:

The bipartisan framework, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would include close to $600 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure projects.

. . .

According to an outline of the bipartisan framework that's circulating on the Hill, new proposals to pay for the infrastructure deal include extending customs user fees, reinstatement of Superfund fees for chemicals and 5G spectrum auction proceeds. Those join existing proposals to increase IRS enforcement and reshuffle unused coronavirus relief money.

A separate outline states that the emerging agreement would dedicate $312 billion in new spending to transportation infrastructure and $266 billion to other infrastructure, including water and broadband.

The whole bill is presented as a "$1.2 trillion" plan, but it's really only $579 billion (the new spending). Biden originally asked for $2.25 trillion, so he gave considerable ground. Of course, he could afford to do so because he always knew there was another bill that could cover anything he agreed to cut.

And everyone seems to have come up with a solution to the problem progressive senators would have had -- do they vote for the deal along with Senator Joe Manchin and just trust that he'd do the right thing on the other bill, or vote against it absent an iron-clad promise from him? President Biden took the lead on this one:

The president even vowed Thursday that he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless Democrats in Congress pass his other social spending priorities, including child care and clean energy.

"I'm going to fight like the devil to get that done," [Joe] Biden said Thursday. "I'm not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest I proposed."

But he'll never have to, because there's an even more elegant way to use this leverage:

"We have some urgency here, and we want to get things done as soon as we can," [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "But what I've talked about in terms of a timeline is having both the bipartisan bill and the budget bill [setting up the Democratic-only package] on the floor of the Senate and passed in July."

Schumer added that he and [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi are on the same page. Pelosi told a group of her members on Thursday morning that the House will not pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a party-line measure that includes more key pieces of Biden's sprawling $4 trillion proposal.

"There ain't no infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill," she said, according to a person on call.

[Editor's note: the second set of brackets in that last excerpt were from the original, the other two are just properly giving full titles and names.]

This solves the problem completely -- an option I hadn't even considered, earlier this week. There will never be a House vote until the second bill also clears the Senate, but at the same time the toughest vote (the Senate vote on the bipartisan bill) will already be on the record. This leaves no wiggle room for anyone, not even Joe Manchin.

This is a clear and achievable endgame. It is realistic. No trust issues exist. First, get the Republicans on the record in the Senate, actually breaking a filibuster to pass a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Then, when that heavy lift has been achieved, move the second bill in the Senate. And progressives have an ace in the hole on this one, because none other than Senator Bernie Sanders will be writing this bill. He may have to give a little to Manchin at the margins, but he'll be able not only to set the overall dollar amounts, but he'll also be drafting all the details as well.

Pass the second bill in the Senate on the expected 51-50 vote. Send it over to the House. Nancy Pelosi introduces both bills on the same day, they both get passed at once, and Joe Biden can decide whether he wants to have one signing ceremony that some of those Republican senators might actually want to attend, and then one a little later with just Democrats (spiking the football all over the place). Whatever optics Biden wanted, he'd get, but that'd really be the only tough decision he'd have to make because both bills would arrive on his desk simultaneously.

These would be the final two legs in Biden's three-legged stool of an agenda. He already passed the American Rescue Plan. The bipartisan and partisan bills that could now be possible would address the lion's share of his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. By doing so, he would become one of the most legislatively productive United States presidents in decades, in only his first year in office. And he could brag as much as he cared to about how he personally brought bipartisanship back to Washington.

It's not going to be his full agenda, not by a longshot. It won't include raising the minimum wage or police reform or voting rights or a host of other very important issues. However it will be miles beyond just "passing this year's budget." Biden will be launching a whole new era of government even if only 80 or 90 percent of his asks make it in the final (partisan) bill. Because 80 to 90 percent of what he wants to get done is going to be absolutely staggering in its magnitude.

So color me optimistic, at this point, on the whole bipartisan infrastructure deal idea. The entire thing has been a purely political exercise from the get-go -- Biden could have just stuffed everything he wanted into one bill designed to pass the Senate with only 51 votes from the very start. He chose not to. He chose this method instead. And, against all odds, it now looks like he has a very good chance at succeeding. The endgame is in sight, and it's looking pretty good from where I sit.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


10 Comments on “A Successful Endgame Emerges”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Very good, I guess. If it works out as smoothly as predicted here, and elsewhere.

    I would like to hear more about the 'why' of it all. You maintain with utter certainty that, had the Dems used reconciliation to steam-roller the entire $2.2T infrastructure package past the Republicans, the end result would be the same: nice things for the American people across the board.

    This double-barreled option accomplishes the same thing with a lot more complexity and moving parts that can break. Since, as you say, the American people won't be asking which tax break or rebuilt road or day care operation came from the 'partisan' bill, and which from the 'bipartisan' bill, what is the point?

    Is it to move the pro-filibuster Dems closer to anti-ing the filibuster? Is it to build a bridge to a Republican minority that may go along with other unreconcilable parts of the Dems' program this year (like, for instance, election reform where that cooperative Republican minority was just last week nowhere in sight)? Is it to make President Biden a happy fellow?

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Don't bet on it unless you get very good odds.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    biden is just a master of behind the scenes maneuvering. nondescript as he is, nobody but trump as an antagonist could have gotten him elected president, but he's exactly what's needed right now. serendipity.

  4. [4] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Historically, the party in power loses seats in the midterms. But is that just an inevitable consequence of the fact that the year isn't divisible by 4 or, when it happens, does it constitute some kind of rebuke or resurgence of an opposing position? I'm hopeful that in 2022, if voters have been well served by legislation that makes some difference in their lives, they won't vote for a Republican Congress simply on the grounds that the Democrats weren't supportive enough of Dr. Seuss or didn't disavow critical race theory definitively enough. (I'm presuming that's all the Republicans will have to offer.)

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    historically, the party in power doesn't do much to help the average person. biden has done a ton to help regular folks. however, whether they realize it and reward his party is anyone's guess.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Very insightful comments, as per usual.

    I'm told that, on the current trajectory, it's the Republicans all the way in the midterms, though, and the only thing that might stop that? Klaatu, of course.

    What say you!?

  7. [7] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Just a reminder….Obama gave in to Republican demands on multiple pieces of legislation only to have NO Republicans vote to support the bipartisan legislation that they had spent weeks working on!

    Just because we have Republicans claiming to be willing to pass bipartisan legislation means nothing until they actually vote for it. McConnell has made it clear that he won’t allow Biden to pass any major piece of legislation… so we will see if Republicans are willing to defy him.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, I hope enough Americans can tell the difference between the two parties better than you can, Don.

    But, you are right about who Klaatu is. :)

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    that's why biden has a parallel reconciliation bill in progress as well. if they try to pull that stunt again, it's straight back to 2.2 trillion dems-only, and everybody wins. except maybe mitch mcconnell.


  10. [10] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    If one party controls the government and is putting on a "show" why would you think voting matters? wouldn't the entire democratic process also be a "show"?

    You seem to have dug yourself in to quite the rhetorical hole here...

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