It looks like there are now at least 60 votes to pass infrastructure legislation. That’s because a group of ten Senators, five from each party, has compromised on the matter.
The compromise reportedly provides for $600 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure projects. I’ve seen reports that the total package is closer to $1 trillion, so there is also spending on things that aren’t true infrastructure, but nothing close to what Joe Biden and his party have been demanding.
It will take more than the five Republicans who negotiated this compromise to get to 60 votes. Reportedly, however, the deal has support from the additional GOP Senators required to pass it.
On its face, the deal as reported seems like a reasonable compromise (which isn’t always the same thing as a good idea). Donald Trump talked about enacting infrastructure legislation. This compromise — focused as it apparently is on genuine infrastructure — might look something like what Trump would have backed had he ever gotten around to this issue.
The problem from the Republican perspective is that the Democrats’ agreement to this deal (assuming enough Dems go along with it) isn’t the end of the matter. Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi intend to press for the rest of what they want through reconciliation.
It will take only 50 votes to accomplish this, as opposed to the 60 required for regular infrastructure legislation. Thus, in their second bite at the apple, the Dems won’t need any Republican support.
Is it then a blunder for the ten or more Republicans to agree to the compromise deal? Charles Cooke at National Review thinks so. He says the GOP is on the verge of giving up all of its negotiating power on the final outcome of the “infrastructure” debate. As just noted, once the compromise bill is agreed to, the Dems won’t have to deal with the GOP on this matter.
Biden says he won’t sign the compromise bill unless Democrats in Congress first pass his other social spending priorities, including child care and “clean energy” — so-called “human infrastructure” — through reconciliation. Nancy Pelosi concurs. She reportedly told her members:
There ain’t no infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill.
To me, this means there is no compromise. Everything Biden wants seems still to be up for grabs, as Cooke says. Only the critical mass of Republicans has given anything away.
However, Ed Morrissey at Hot Air points out:
Schumer doesn’t need this [compromise] bill in order to do reconciliation in the next budget. Without this bill, it would actually be easier to argue for a singular massive infrastructure package. Functionally this changes nothing for Schumer, and it might actually make it a bit more difficult to get to 50 on reconciliation if Joe Manchin and some of the other Democratic negotiators in this deal refuse to stab their GOP colleagues in the back.
Without this bill, that tension doesn’t exist at all, but this deal will likely make it more politically difficult for Schumer to use reconciliation on additional infrastructure spending.
Manchin is likely to resist the kind of massive spending package Biden wants. But left to his own devices, I doubt he can be counted on to resist adding another trillion or two to the agreed upon package.
I wonder, though, whether ten GOP Senators are truly committed to voting for the “compromise” with the threat of reconciliation looming. It’s one thing to vote for the agreed upon, mostly infrastructure package standing alone. But why can’t they follow Pelosi’s approach and say, “there ain’t no infrastructure bill with a reconciliation bill”?
Similarly but alternatively, they could say, “there ain’t no infrastructure bill because Biden and Pelosi are insisting on a reconciliation bill on top of it.” However, as Morrissey points out, Schumer can enact the infrastructure bill as part of a larger reconciliation package without any GOP support.
In the end, anyway you slice the thing it comes down to what Joe Manchin wants. What does he want? infrastructure legislation on a bipartisan basis, I think.
Thus, the best option might be to extract a firm commitment from Manchin and/or Krysten Sinema not to support reconciliation on top of the compromise bill — or, perhaps more realistically, at least not to take reconciliation very far.
It’s enough to make your head spin — mine, at least. I better stop now.
UPDATE: Mitch McConnell has seized on Biden’s threat to veto the compromise bill absent a reconciliation bill. He rightly accuses Biden of pulling the rug out from under the bipartisan deal.
McConnell’s line, essentially, is what I described as “there ain’t no infrastructure bill because Biden and Pelosi are insisting on a reconciliation bill on top of it.” Let’s hope that this line prevails among GOP Senators and that Manchin and company are forced to disavow reconciliation in order to keep the deal alive.