What was missing from that smiling group of senators gathered with President Biden to announce their $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (including $579 billion in new spending) Thursday afternoon? Two main things. The five more GOP senators needed to avoid a Republican filibuster, to start. There are allegedly six other Republicans in the group that’s been negotiating, but were they not enthusiastic enough to stand for essentially a photo-op? Too busy?
The other missing element was any hint of color. The 10 senators who announced the deal represented, one by one, a whiter shade of pale. There’s only one Black Republican senator, of course, and with an election coming up it’s possible South Carolina Tim Scott couldn’t risk it, especially while he’s negotiating with Democrats on police reform. Texas Senator Rafael “Cancún” Cruz… never mind.
On the Democratic side, was it utterly impossible to get even one of the eight senators of color—not Cory Booker, Catherine Cortez-Masto, Alex Padilla, Raphael Warnock, Maizie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, Bob Menendez, or Ben-Ray Lujan—to join? Yes, most are liberals, though Menendez, Duckworth, and Cortez-Mastro are among the most collaborative with the GOP, according to GovTrack. (Senator Kyrsten Sinema, of course, a cochair of the bipartisan effort and a foe of a $15 minimum wage as well as filibuster reform, was ranked most conservative.) Democrats should have more than eight senators of color among their 50, but that’s for another time.
First, the positive: Republicans used to resist the notion that things like broadband access, replacing water and sewer systems, and even expanded mass transit funding were worthy “infrastructure” spending; this reported bipartisan agreement funds all three. In a brief press conference later, Biden boasted of winning $115 billion for public transit and passenger rail, and $15 billion for electric buses and vehicle charging stations. There’s another $65 billion for “broadband infrastructure” and $55 billion for “water infrastructure.” Early versions of the compromise included funding via a public-private “infrastructure bank,” which many progressives fear would represent a public asset giveaway; no word yet about whether this package does the same thing.
By far the best thing that happened all day was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge that the House won’t take up the bipartisan package until the Senate passes both that and the list of broader progressive priorities coming to be known as “human infrastructure”—more funding for climate change, education, and the “infrastructure of care” (child care, pre-kindergarten, elder care)—that made Biden’s original $2 trillion infrastructure proposal so exciting. Progressives, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have demanded that the proposals proceed on parallel tracks for the bipartisan compromise to get their votes.
And after he left the press conference, Biden issued his own statement: “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it.… I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting the rest of it.” That’s good news.
There’s still no guarantee the compromise bill will garner 10 GOP votes. During Biden’s meeting with the press, he referred, notably, to “what we just settled,” adding “at least for the moment.” The president told reporters, “I don’t have any guarantee” that the bill will get the Republican votes it needs. Ominously, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who said his top priority is blocking Biden’s agenda, has been silent on the deal. It’s hard to imagine him giving 10 Republicans permission to support the bill, especially if it goes along on a parallel track with a reconciliation package. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner told MSNBC he “will be shocked if we don’t wind up with 20 or even more Republicans” voting for the compromise. I’ll have what he’s having; we’ll see.
The compromise also gives Sinema and Joe Manchin, two implacable foes of filibuster reform, an excuse to insist that bipartisanship is not dead—indeed, both said just that in brief statements on Thursday. (Neither has said they’ll support another infrastructure deal via reconciliation.) What will that mean for efforts to pass voting rights reform, which clearly requires filibuster reform? It was already on life support, and this is unlikely to help. This compromise still could fail, however. I’m not rooting for that, as long as firm plans for a larger reconciliation package go along with it. But I wouldn’t count more than five GOP votes as solid just yet.