Talks between the Biden White House and a group of senators seeking a “bipartisan compromise” on the president’s infrastructure bill have been rocky. There were even reports early this week that they had stalled.
That was good.
But now, with the arrival of the latest Republican counterproposal to President Biden’s laudable and necessary infrastructure plan, it appears that “bipartisanship” is making a comeback.
That is bad.
“Bipartisanship” still gets a lot of good press from commentators who long for a return to the “I’d like like to buy the world a Coke” days of the 1960s and ’70s when there were Republican senators who were every bit as ardent in their support of civil rights, environmental protection, and robust social investment as most of their Democratic colleagues. But those days, and those Republicans, are long gone.
The idea that there could be positive cross-party collaboration on so definitional a measure as Biden’s American Jobs Plan is a ridiculously outdated and dangerous fantasy. It may still be true that Congress can pull together in an emergency, as it did on some measures during the worst stages of the pandemic. But when it comes to forging the future, Republicans have taken cooperation for the common good off the table. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells us, “One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration.” The Republican rebuttal to Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress rejected the president’s agenda with a litany of false claims and an incendiary complaint that “our best future will not come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams.”
If the president and Senate Democrats think they can cut deals with Senate Republicans on the existential issues of the 2020s, they are no wiser than Charlie Brown as he prepares to make one more attempt to kick the football Lucy is about to pull out from under him.
For Senate Republicans, negotiating with a Democratic president is no longer an exercise in governing. It is a political strategy designed to distract, delay, and ultimately defeat Democrats.
“Bipartisan” has become the GOP word for “Sucker!”
That’s especially true when it comes to negotiations on the infrastructure proposal.
In last month’s rebuttal to the president, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, a potential 2024 Republican presidential or a vice presidential contender, dismissed Biden’s plan with this announcement: “Democrats want a partisan wish list. They won’t even build bridges to build bridges.” (Fact check: That’s false; Biden’s plan includes plenty of money for bridge building.)
In case anyone missed Scott’s point, the Republican senator went out of his way to mislabel the jobs plan as “a liberal wish list of big government waste.”
What do the Republicans—and Democrats who are excited to compromise with them—identify as “a partisan wish list” and “big government waste”? Caring for the elderly and saving the planet.
The Biden infrastructure plan is not perfect. But it is realistic about the challenges this country faces, and about how they must be addressed. That realism led the president to embrace a 21st-century definition of infrastructure that recognizes the full potential of federal investment to shape a more functional future for working Americans. As such, the president’s $2.25 trillion proposal, as it was outlined in late March, included a credible down payment on meeting the nation’s long-neglected physical infrastructure needs—$621 billion for roads, bridges, public transit, rail, ports, waterways, airports, and electric vehicles. It nodded in meaningful ways to the climate concerns raised by campaigners for a more ambitious Green New Deal. It highlighted vital ideas for investing in clean drinking water, housing, and high-speed broadband Internet services. And, in its most practical section, it committed to spending $400 billion to fund the care infrastructure of a just and humane society—a necessary component of a modern jobs plan, because it provides essential support for workers with elderly parents and disabled family members.
In the name of “bipartisanship,” however, many of the boldest and most forward-looking parts of the Biden plan are now threatened.
Supposedly “reasonable” Republicans and their Democratic collaborators have drawn the White House into torturous negotiations over counterproposals that would abandon most of the investment and almost all of the vision. The initial Republican counterproposal would have eliminated roughly three-quarters of Biden’s proposed investment. That was laughable. Now, Republicans have upped the amount of spending they would accept to $928 billion. But that still eliminates more than half of what Biden proposes. To pay for the spending they do accept, Republicans offer budgetary gimmickry—including a scheme to claw back money allocated to the states to provide relief for Americans whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic turbulence extending from it.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says that the GOP plan is not “a serious counteroffer.”
“First of all, they don’t have pay-fors for this, it’s not real,” explains Warren. “They have this illusory notion of how we’re gonna take money that’s already been committed to other places and other spending.”
In addition to being fiscally unsound, the Republican proposal rejects the forward-looking components of the Biden plan, including the $400 billion for caregiving. West Virginia’s Republican senator, Shelley Moore Capito, gripes, “The White House is still bringing their human infrastructure into this package and that’s just a non-starter for us.”
Capito’s stance should make the GOP plan a nonstarter for the Democrats in the Senate.
Warren explains why, saying, “Notice who gets left behind: Women.” The new Republican counteroffer rejects Biden’s proposal to expand and improve the nation’s care infrastructure by improving pay and conditions for the workers—primarily women, disproportionately women of color—who care for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Warren’s right about that, and she’s right when she notes that the Republican plan eliminates Biden proposals focused on “bringing down our carbon footprint.” As the senator said after reviewing the GOP scheme, “I’m not hearing about the green infrastructure.”
Neither was the Sunrise Movement, which recognized the futility of a bipartisanship “compromise” that that retreats to the failed strategies of the past.
Noting that “Biden has a once in a generation opportunity to make change in this country, which is why he was elected on a bold climate mandate and began his administration with a sweeping Covid relief bill,” Sunrise’s Ellen Sciales said Thursday, “He can’t go small now and sell out working people to compromise with politicians who would rather ensure billionaires get tax cuts than make sure we get paid a living wage.
Scailes offers Biden a lesson in practical politics that the president and his allies in Congress should take to heart—even if it may require some negotiating with recalcitrant Democrats. “Not a single Republican senator voted for the popular and vital Covid relief package and Democrats passed it anyway,” she explains. “That’s what Democrats must do now—they must use the power vested in them by voters to do what’s needed with or without the GOP. Do not cower to Republicans. Ceding to Republicans and accepting any GOP proposal will only lead to the death of more people from extreme weather, continue the persistent under and unemployment Americans are facing, and will put in jeopardy the Democratic majority in 2022 and 2024.”