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President Joe Biden struck a major bipartisan deal on infrastructure — or did he?
That’s the question Washington faces after Biden tried to thread the needle on placating both centrists and the Left, possibly outsmarting himself on one of his top initiatives.
“We have a deal,” Biden said on Thursday, announcing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that had the support of key Republicans and centrist Democrats. “We made serious compromises on both ends.”
It was supposed to be irrefutable proof that bipartisan Biden lived, that his 36 years on Capitol Hill could break the legislative logjam and deliver important things for the public. “I know the Senate and the House better than most of you know it,” he told reporters at the White House.
Then, Biden also said he was so committed to a second, separate infrastructure bill containing liberal policy priorities they planned to pass with only Democratic votes that he would not sign the compromise legislation unless the other passed too.
“I expect in the coming months, this summer before the fiscal year is over, that we will have voted on this bill, the infrastructure bill, as well as voted on the budget resolution,” Biden said. “But if this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem.”
That sat uneasily alongside Biden’s assurances to the five Republican senators on hand for his infrastructure announcement: “They have my word, I’ll stick with what we’ve proposed, and they’ve given me their word as well.”
Republicans were furious. “The president did not help us get our side on board,” a GOP congressional aide said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who had been supportive of a bipartisan bill, accused Biden of a bait and switch.
“If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Graham fumed to Politico. “I’m not doing that. That’s extortion!” He said that if you were a GOP lawmaker involved in the negotiations, you “look like a f---ing idiot now,” adding, “I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”
The Biden administration and Democratic congressional leaders have spoken of a two-pronged approach to infrastructure, simultaneously working on one bill focused on traditional physical projects such as roads and bridges that could pass on a bipartisan basis and another bigger spending bill that would be advanced through reconciliation, negating the need for Republican votes in the Senate.
"That hasn't been a secret. He hasn't said it quietly. He hasn't even whispered it. He said it very much out loud to all of you," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.
The White House also released a readout of a call between Biden and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who is among the centrists supporting the bipartisan infrastructure framework. “The President also reiterated that he would fight to pass the Bipartisan Agreement, as he committed to the group,” the statement said. “The President reiterated strong support for both the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill and a reconciliation bill containing the American Families Plan moving forward on a two-track system, as he said yesterday when meeting the press with the bipartisan group of ten Senators.”
Biden's own direct talks with Republicans failed, but with his encouragement, a bipartisan group of senators kept negotiating. The president threw his support behind the plan at the White House on Thursday.
Liberals have always had their own misgivings about this infrastructure strategy. In addition to the challenge of channeling activist energy in support of two separate bills, they fear once the compromise is passed, the reconciliation bill will either be diluted or defeated.
That’s why Democratic leaders were quick to draw a red line. “There ain’t going to be no bipartisan bill unless we have the reconciliation bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, concurred. “There will not be a bipartisan agreement unless, written in stone, there is an understanding that there will be a major, major reconciliation bill. …There will not be one without the other one,” Sanders told SiriusXM. “We're not going to say we’re going to invest in roads and bridges, but we're going to forget about climate; we're going to forget about children; we're going to forget about working people or the elderly. … Ain’t gonna happen. You can quote me on that.”
However, the trouble for Republicans is, why would they vote for a $1 trillion bill some conservative activists already oppose if its passage is contingent on the enactment of a package containing many of the provisions they had stripped out during the negotiation process.
Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said GOP negotiators should feel “betrayed” and “double-crossed” by Biden. “Yesterday, clearly, was smoke and mirrors, and it was all optics,” he told Fox Business. “Because, to say that we have an agreement and then just a few hours later to say, 'Unless you pass my entire progressive wish list items, everything that I’ve proposed in the rest of the infrastructure package, in the budget, I’ll veto it.' That’s unacceptable, and that’s not good faith.”
The question remains whether Biden or congressional Democrats really would balk at an infrastructure bill that had the votes to pass if the reconciliation bill, which would require the votes of Sinema and fellow centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in order to prevail, failed. Liberals once said they would not vote for a version of Obamacare that did not contain a public option but ultimately passed the bill anyway.
“Seems a bit too clever and a tad disingenuous, but I’m not sure that means it won’t work,” Christian Ferry, a Republican strategist who advised the Biden transition team on bipartisan outreach, said of the infrastructure two-step.
Congress's summer recess is approaching, and Democrats have a limited amount of time to pass the Biden agenda before lawmakers turn their attention to the midterm elections next year. The party is defending narrow majorities in both houses of Congress.
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Original Author: W. James Antle III
Original Location: Biden might have outsmarted himself on infrastructure deal