Biden Gets His Bipartisan Signing Ceremony

[ Posted Monday, November 15th, 2021 – 16:39 UTC ]

Today President Joe Biden got the bill-signing ceremony he has wanted all along. Surrounded by both Democrats and Republicans, Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill he had been requesting from Congress since the spring. He got 19 Republican senators and 13 GOP House members to vote for it -- which is impressive these days, but also a reflection of the hyperpartisan nature of politics today, since in years gone by such a basic bill would likely have been passed with near-unanimous votes in both houses. But even getting 32 Republicans on board was a major achievement for President Biden.

It's also one he campaigned heavily on -- the idea that "the fever would break" after the departure of Donald Trump from the scene, and then Republicans would go back to being reasonable politicians who might be open to a compromise on all sorts of important issues. Biden spent a long time in the Senate and personally remembers when things like that happened on a regular basis. But he's also been gone from the Senate for over a decade now, and so his wish to return to bipartisan legislating had to be tempered with the reality of the tribalism that defines American politics today.

The infrastructure bill is impressive, but nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. The negotiators tried a bit of flim-flammery that far too many in the media fell for, by stating it was a "$1.2 trillion" package, when in reality it was only about $550 billion in new spending (the other money would have been spent anyway even if this bill had failed to pass, in other words). This is less than a third of the roughly $2 trillion Biden had originally requested.

It also will be financed at least partially by deficit spending. The Democrats wanted to make it revenue-neutral and fiscally responsible, but the Republicans refused to consider any new taxes at all to pay for it. So it will add to the deficit -- unlike the Build Back Better bill, which should be fully paid for.

Even getting a shrunken infrastructure bill, however, is a major achievement for Joe Biden. After "Infrastructure Week" became a joke, Donald Trump never did make good on all his campaign promises to invest in America's roads, bridges, ports, and other building blocks of a modern society. Biden delivered, in less than 10 months, what eluded Trump for four years. And he did so with Republican input and Republican support.

Of course, that support only goes so far. Most Republicans who voted for the bill were not present at today's signing ceremony. The ones who stayed away are terrified of the blowback from Donald Trump's temper tantrum about Biden's big win. Which again reflects how tribal politics has now become. Politicians used to leap at the opportunity to claim credit for "bringing home the bacon" to their district or state, and showing up for a bill-signing ceremony is just as much a part of that as appearing at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new highway interchange or bridge. But according to Trump and all his many GOP minions, because this is a win for Joe Biden it must automatically be branded one of the biggest evils ever to befall America. They have been denouncing it as "communism" or some grand "socialist plot," which is absolutely ridiculous. I'm not sure how building a bridge to replace one that is falling down equates with a Marxist takeover of the country, but that's exactly what some Republicans are saying.

In reality, the bill will provide billions of federal dollars for roads, bridges, ports, rail, public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations, lead water pipe replacement, shoring up the electrical grid, broadband for underserved communities (many of them rural), and environmental projects. These are not exactly controversial ideas, in other words. This was almost by design, since the Republicans who negotiated the deal only wanted things that were (by their own definition) strictly infrastructure projects. This was to avoid any political fallout for Republicans so they could more confidently vote for the bill.

Sadly, this may be not just the first but the last such bipartisan signing ceremony Biden hosts at the White House -- at least until after the congressional midterm elections, at the very least. It is almost impossible to imagine a similar scene for any of the other pressing issues Congress is attempting to tackle, because on virtually all of them the Republican Party has been marching in lockstep -- anything Biden and the Democrats are for, they're against. Ideology doesn't matter in this equation, it's just: "If it's good for Biden, I'm against it."

One sincerely hopes that Biden understands this basic dynamic. Sure, he'll make as much political hay as he can bragging how he got a big bipartisan bill through Congress when nobody else really believed that was even possible. He's certainly entitled to enjoy this victory lap. It blunts all the charges Republicans have been throwing at him for "not governing as a moderate, after campaigning to bring people together." Now Biden has a very tangible way to deflect such criticism.

But at the same time, Biden must know that this was going to be the only bipartisan bill ever to see the light of day from this Congress. From this point on, anything that gets done will get done with only Democratic support. And a big key to getting everything in Biden's agenda outside of the Build Back Better bill accomplished is going to be changing (or jettisoning) the filibuster rules in the Senate. So far, Biden has been reluctant to show any leadership on this issue, mostly to avoid annoying the two senators who have been holding the Build Back Better plan hostage for so many months. If (and it's still a pretty big "if") the Build Back Better plan does finally pass the Senate, perhaps Biden will begin weighing in on the filibuster. Because if nothing changes, an enormous chunk of his agenda -- including voting rights, election reform, police reform, immigration reform, and rolling back the Trump tax cuts, just for starters -- is never going to make it out of the Senate.

Biden has to know this. It's pretty obvious, after all. So he should indeed enjoy his bipartisan victory lap and then he should work hard to get his Build Back Better bill through the Senate before the end of the year. But once that has been accomplished, Biden is going to have to face a big choice: either convince Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to get rid of (or significantly weaken) the filibuster, or see most of the rest of his political agenda screech to a halt.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “Biden Gets His Bipartisan Signing Ceremony”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    One sincerely hopes that Biden understands this basic dynamic.

    Well, if there is one thing I know for sure it is that Biden understands much more than all of us here, combined.

    So, I know he understands that basic dynamic.

    Over the years and decades, Biden has on occasion said something or did something that didn't make sense to me on the face of it only to prove later to be wholly prescient.

    I don't think too many people believed that he would get any Republican support, let alone more than thirty of them!

    There may be a handful of people on the planet who understand what Biden knows about bipartisanship -bipartisanship then, now or what is possible in the future in that regard.

  2. [2] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    The basic dynamic that Biden understands is that the Deathocrats job is to do the basic minimum and just not be able to do all things they say they want to do.

    When are you, CW, going to understand the basic dynamic that this is all just part of the show and the Deathocrats part in the show is to pretend to want to do things to prevent the formation of real opposition to the politicians from both the Deathocrats and Republikillers that both work for the big money interests?



  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, Don, I suppose, in order to prove (or disprove) your point about Democrats, getting rid of the filibuster now would go a long way toward doing just that.

    Democrats would then have to put up or shut up, as they say...

    What do you know about Sentor Manching raking in more money from his coal businesses than he does from his Senator's salary. I'm wondering why this never comes up when pointing out Manchin's opposition to everything.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Yes, Manching. It combines the words "Manchin" and "raking," you see?

  6. [6] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Thanks for clearing that up Caddy...

    I thought Manching was what happened to people in Boston after a long sesh with the bong ...

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Technically, you're correct. But isn't this other meaning spelled a little more like it's pronounced,

    Help me out, folks, I've never been to Baahstihn.

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