Does the infrastructure bill prove bipartisanship isn't dead?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in voting to advance the proposal. The plan includes $550 billion in new spending for roads, bridges, waterways, public transit, railways, the power grid and broadband internet. It also represents the first step in a two-part strategy to make President Biden’s signature legislative priority a reality.

The final agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations between moderates from both parties, talks many political pundits argued would turn out to be fruitless given the intense partisanship that has been a feature of American politics in recent years. “This bill shows we can work together,” Biden said after the Senate vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, often considered the face of Republican obstruction, had previously called the bill “a bipartisan success story for the country.”

Attention now turns to the second part of the Democrats’ infrastructure strategy, a much more ambitious $3.5 trillion budget that will fund education, health care, climate initiatives and a long list of other priorities. Using a legislative process called reconciliation, it can pass without any GOP votes as long as all 50 Democrats in the Senate support it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House for a vote until the Senate has passed the larger reconciliation bill.

Why there’s debate

Many political analysts, including some who had been skeptical that a deal could be reached, have said the infrastructure agreement is a sign that bipartisanship is still possible in Washington. While there are, of course, issues on which the parties are deeply divided, there are still areas where enough members of both parties can find agreement to help the American people and promote what they believe is their own political interest, they argue. Optimists also point to trillion-dollar coronavirus rescue packages that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support during the Trump administration as further evidence that lawmakers can still get things done when they need to.

Skeptics say the bipartisanship displayed during infrastructure negotiations was little more than political theater, since everyone involved understood from the onset that Democrats can pass whatever they want on their own through reconciliation. A successful deal on a single issue, critics note, in no way means that Republicans will drop their unified opposition to Biden’s other legislative goals like voting rights, health care, gun control or confronting climate change.

Other critics have argued that the infrastructure negotiations are an example of how harmful it can be when lawmakers prioritize bipartisanship above all else. Some left-leaning pundits have accused moderate Democrats of watering down the substance of the infrastructure bill and wasting precious time chasing GOP votes that were never needed in the first place. Some on the right have criticized Republicans for not being more partisan and doing everything they could to stand in the way of what they see as a bloated government spending package.

What’s next

Wrangling between House progressives and moderate Senate Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema over the size and scope of the reconciliation bill will likely be a major narrative in the coming weeks as party leaders look to secure the near-unanimous support needed to advance the bill and budget through both houses of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly set a tentative deadline of Sept. 15 for an agreement to be reached.



The deal doesn’t mean fierce partisanship is dead, but it’s a positive sign

“Many people insisted for months that this was obviously doomed and anyone who thought otherwise was a fool. When there’s a surprising outcome, good to take note and update your mental model of the world, at least a bit.” — Vox correspondent Andrew Prokop

Infrastructure could be the first sign of a new era of bipartisanship

“It’s not just about roads, bridges and broadband. This measure … could be so much more: the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Yes, Democrats and Republicans still disagree on a lot and have heated debates on the floors of Congress and off of it. But the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes $550 billion in new spending, has politicos hopeful that the muscle memory of bipartisanship of yore is kicking in, setting the stage for more cross-aisle accomplishments.” — Susan Milligan, U.S. News & World Report

The two sides can agree when it will benefit all Americans

“This investment in infrastructure not only means more jobs and a better economic future, it also shows Congress can still tackle the nation’s problems together.” — Editorial, Seattle Times

Policy complicated, bipartisanship needed

“The simple truth is this: America’s public policy challenges will not fit neatly into the box of any political ideology. A nation as large and diverse as the United States simply doesn’t succeed by one side winning a narrow majority of votes and then imposing its will on the other. There’s no version of that story with a happy ending, no matter which side you find yourself on.” — Stephen Neely, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Bipartisanship is still the norm for a whole range of issues

“Congress does pass bipartisan bills on a regular basis, but they are typically much narrower measures or must-pass legislation that keeps the government open or the Pentagon funded. The path the infrastructure package still faces is a reminder of why more ambitious bipartisan deals can be tough.” — Andrew Duehren, Kristina Peterson and Andrew Restuccia, Wall Street Journal

Republicans aren’t as cynical as many pundits make them out to be

“No, Republicans will not automatically oppose everything any Democratic president supports. I thought that would be the case, or close to it, before President Joe Biden was elected. It was true of the pandemic-relief legislation, which Republicans could’ve bargained down to a smaller bill but instead unanimously opposed. This time, it was different.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg


This is likely the last gasp of bipartisanship during the Biden presidency

“The naysayers of political compromise who have relegated bipartisanship to a bygone era were proven wrong. … But let’s not conflate this moment with momentum: Lacking systemic change, bipartisanship in Congress will be fleeting.” — Nick Troiano, The Hill

The pursuit of a bipartisan deal was a destructive act of political performance

“What may appear to be an imminent victory for bipartisan dealmaking was in fact a drawn-out demonstration of how broken the Senate is as an institution. The Senate (with the White House’s support) wasted months cajoling and rehabilitating a handful of key Republicans, only to pass a smaller version of something Democrats could theoretically have passed entirely on their own.” — Alex Pareene, New York Times

Infrastructure negotiations were a sign of how feeble bipartisanship really is

“It’s more bad news for American democracy, which has received no shortage thereof lately, if it depends on a display of cooperation so rare and provisional as this week’s bipartisan vote just to consider investing in some of the nation’s dire needs.” — Editorial, San Francisco Chronicle

Moderate Democrats’ commitment to bipartisanship is a danger to democracy

“Bipartisanship as a supreme goal is a dangerous illusion. The assault on the franchise — which is tightly connected to the assault on the Capitol on January 6 — … screams out for a federal response. And yet that’s out of reach at least in part because Krysten Sinema, champion of bipartisanship, refuses to consent to change the filibuster rule in any way.” — Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

GOP support for the infrastructure bill was entirely strategic

“McConnell is obviously concerned that Democrats will weaken or eliminate the supermajority threshold for non-budget legislation, and he has instructed his allies to praise Manchin and Sinema for their support of the status quo. McConnell likely calculates that killing an infrastructure bill increases the risk that Democrats may decide the system doesn’t work and needs reform.” — Jonathan Chait, New York

GOP senators got duped into signing on to a disastrous piece of legislation

“Biden has given the middle finger to Republicans, and Republicans have effectively responded with two thumbs up. This is a reckless and irresponsible action from a policy perspective and malpractice from a political perspective. If Republicans lose big time in 2022, they have nobody but themselves to blame.” — Philip Klein, National Review

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images, AP, Alex Wong/Getty Images, Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images)

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