Infrastructure Week

[ Posted Monday, July 19th, 2021 – 16:19 UTC ]

It became a running joke in the previous administration (the phrase a mockery since none of it ever came to fruition), but we may now have finally arrived at a real, honest-to-goodness "Infrastructure Week." Or, to put it another way, it's finally time for everyone to stop kidding around. By week's end, we may know what sort of legacy President Joe Biden is going to leave. He could be counted by history as one of the more transformational presidents of the modern era, or it all may fall apart at the last minute. Either way, this week will likely be the pivotal one.

The real question has always been whether Republicans are negotiating in good faith over a bipartisan infrastructure plan, or whether their true goal has just been to waste everyone's time for as long as they can possibly get away with it. That is still an open question, but if Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders remain firm, by week's end it may not matter.

First, the Republicans negotiating this deal examined the concept of "infrastructure" under a microscope. Biden had not explicitly called his plan an "infrastructure" plan (instead he calls it the American Jobs Plan), but Republicans had determined that only the things they agreed fit their definition of infrastructure could possibly go into the bill they might support.

So the plan got whittled down from the $2 trillion Biden had asked for to less than $600 billion. The Republicans tossed in some smoke and mirrors and are claiming the bill is "almost $1 trillion" or even "$1.2 trillion," but in terms of new spending it is actually just shy of $0.6 trillion. This figure has been agreed to by all the parties, and isn't the sticking point now.

The biggest question for the Republicans was always going to be how they would pay for it all. They flat-out rejected Biden's call to increase taxes on corporations, and Biden rejected their idea of a gas tax hike. Many other ideas were batted around, but then it seemed like everyone had settled on a plan to pay for it. Except that, at the last minute, Republicans got cold feet over one provision: giving the I.R.S. more money to go after tax cheats. This would have brought in at least $100 billion.

So now the Republican Party has taken the political position of standing up for tax cheats. So much for all that "law and order" talk, eh? They demanded removing the idea from the bipartisan bill, but they have no real idea how to replace it -- and most Republicans have already said the bill must be fully paid for or else they won't even consider voting for it.

So Chuck Schumer has now drawn a line in the sand. He has scheduled a vote for Wednesday. The Republicans who have been negotiating are howling about this, but in the Senate the only way anything ever gets done is when there is a deadline staring everyone in the face. But the Republicans still beg: "Just give us a little more time."

Schumer should ignore them. They have had more than enough time already. Biden unveiled his plan in early spring. They've been wasting everyone's time for months now. Schumer is right to draw this line and tell them: "This is when the time-wasting will be at an end -- either get your act together by then or admit you've failed."

Bernie Sanders is in charge of putting together the companion bill, which isn't even going to try to get any Republicans on board. By using budget reconciliation rules, it can pass with only Democrats voting for it (as long as every single one of them does). He has also arrived at an agreement for the total size of the bill: $3.5 trillion. And a procedural vote on it (which will get the whole legislative ball rolling) has also been called for Wednesday.

What I hope is that Bernie is actually preparing two such plans. The one he already announced, at $3.5 trillion, and a backup plan with all the bipartisan infrastructure pieces rolled into it, which would clock in at $4.1 trillion. That way, he'll be ready to go on Wednesday no matter what happens with the bipartisan bill. If the Republicans do get their act together and 10 of them actually vote to begin debate on the bill, then Bernie can just introduce the $3.5 trillion plan. But if the bipartisan effort falls apart (with Republicans still loudly screaming: "Just give us a couple more weeks... or maybe a few months... certainly by Christmas, right?"), then Bernie should be ready to move forward on the entire Biden agenda in one package. Immediately.

Republicans have negotiated in bad faith before. By doing so, they almost derailed Obamacare. They certainly delayed it by an enormous amount of time, and the final product was watered down in a futile effort to get Republican votes. Neither one of those should be allowed to happen now.

The public does not care about all this "inside baseball" maneuvering. They just don't. All normal people care about is what gets done. They care about results. They can either approve of the results or denounce them, but nobody loses sleep over which parliamentary path legislation took to get to the president's desk. Democrats need to fully understand this a lot better than they do now.

We'll see whether Chuck Schumer will keep to the deadline he set. If the Republicans whine loudly enough about how "we're almost there," then Schumer should, at the absolute most, give them until Friday. If they still don't have a workable deal by then, then Democrats should immediately give up all hope of any bipartisan deal and use their majority to enact the president's agenda in full. Biden will not pay a large price for "not being bipartisan enough," he will instead reap the political rewards of seeing a transformational piece of legislation pass that will improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans in very real and tangible ways. Because results count. Far more than "how bipartisan was it?" So hopefully by week's end Biden's entire agenda will be advancing through the Senate, and it might actually be locked down before Congress disappears for the entire month of August. Or, to put it another way: it is finally Infrastructure Week -- and that is no longer a joke.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “Infrastructure Week”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Nice thought about Sanders being prepared to turn on a dime on Wednesday, and bring a larger reconciliation bill to a procedural vote if the so-called bipartisan bill goes down in flames. I had had a similar instinct, that if the bp bill blows up the Dems need to transfer its contents to the only other game in town, pronto.

    But is that the way Sanders and his committee works? Wouldn't we know, via staff leaks, if his people were preparing two parallel procedural votes, for plan A and plan A+B? Is it even all that easy to do such a thing, Senate rules-wise?

    And finally, I remember reading that this 'procedural vote' on Wednesday, on the larger or super-larger spending plan meant to qualify for a reconciliation vote later in the year, is a can of worms in its own right. If I understand it, the bill is simply not ready. There are no details, no actual legislative budgetary assignments and directives -- $45 billion for this, $200 billion for that, a trillion for you guys over there. That comes later.

    So some senators are complaining that the procedural vote, which as you say is simply the beginning that "gets the legislative ball rolling", is meaningless or even deceptive. The passage of either one, the as-is one or the possible one that Bernie has secretly prepared in the case of the failure of the bipartisan mini-bill, is not at all guaranteed because it's too big, with too little detail for its size and historic scope.

    Anyway, I guess at least *something* will happen this week: the life or death of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that apparently, with two days to go, has no realistic funding attached to its allocations.

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