All day long on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted she would move the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the floor, even though there was no agreement on the Democrats’ historic child care, elder care, Medicare-enhancing, climate-change-fighting reconciliation bill.
“So far, so good,” she told reporters Thursday morning.
It turned out it wasn’t good. And Pelosi postponed the vote.
In some ways, it’s depressing. Congress should pass both bills, as Democratic leadership in the House, Senate, and the White House promised it would. It’s hard to promote doing nothing as a victory. But it was a victory nonetheless. The Congressional Progressive Caucus made itself heard, as just two senators, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, stand in the way of genuine progress.
Progressives now have enough power to derail bad bills—and, let’s hope, to pass new bills, good ones, soon.
By itself, of course, the bipartisan infrastructure agreement isn’t bad. Every road you drive on, every bridge you cross, needs either a careful eye on its safety or millions of shoring up that you already know about. But passing that bill alone is, for Democrats, like ignoring a crumbling bridge: Go ahead and drive over it, folks, but we’re not sure when it’s going to collapse.
That metaphor works two ways. The Democratic coalition is broad, but fragile. And maybe crumbling. It needs some tangible wins. As Representative Katie Porter has argued repeatedly, it’s only the reconciliation bill that will deliver help to American families quickly—the infrastructure bill will require “shovel-ready” projects to get started, which mostly aren’t there yet.
And the guy who ran the 2009 economic bailout—yes, it was Joe Biden—knows how few “shovel-ready” projects there are when you launch a new infrastructure plan.
The other way the bridge metaphor works is this: We haven’t bridged the divide between us and the rest of the resource and capital-rich “developed” world when it comes to the infrastructure of care. Every nation that lines up beside us in that category has so much more support for parents who have young children, or those same parents as they care for their own parents, or as they themselves age. Our policies right now are cruelty. Is that the point?
I really don’t think so. I believe these questions got lost as Democrats tried to fight a scary Republican phantom that insisted government was bad, and thus tried to hide what government did, starting decades ago. The great thing is that Biden, formerly a creature of the 1990s Democratic backlash against the supposed wrongs of the 1960s, is presiding over the change of attitude.
I’m not going to pretend to know how this turns out. But I know this delay is a win. I’m still waiting for a real, robust reconciliation bill that delivers on promises Democrats made in the 2020 election.
Oh, and an infrastructure bill too.