Leubsdorf: high stakes to pass the bills
It didn’t take long for President Joe Biden to show how difficult it will be to achieve his twin goals of a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a massive set of Democratic national priorities.
And the intensity of the exchange that followed underlined that the stakes of what looms as a battle of several months will be crucial for the success of his presidency.
No sooner did Biden and a bipartisan group of senators announce a deal in the White House than the president gave ammunition to his GOP critics. He said he had no plans to sign the bipartisan bill until he could also sign the broader partisan measure.
“If it’s the only one that comes to me, I don’t sign it,” Biden said. “It’s in tandem.”
Biden’s pairing of the two tickets came as no surprise. The White House had been signaling the two-lane approach for weeks. And several Senate Republicans have acknowledged, even while negotiating the bipartisan measure, that they expect Democrats to seek additional funding for their national priorities in the so-called budget reconciliation bill.
Yet some negotiators have displayed false outrage. “If he wants to tie them together, he can forget about it,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said. “This is extortion! “
But that’s exactly what several other GOP negotiators predicted.
Biden then sought to quell the revolt – and apparently succeeded, at least for now. In a lengthy statement, he said the two were not dependent on each other, that he would of course sign any bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed. This prompted several Republican signatories to declare, as Portman put it in ABC’s “This Week”, “now we can move forward.”
Biden’s initial statement that he would only sign both – or neither – was a bit more explicit than some allies might have preferred. They sought to convince Progressive Democrats to support a less robust bipartisan “physical infrastructure” measure than they prefer by promising passage of the second bill reflecting their party’s so-called “human infrastructure” priorities, such as expanding daycares, preschools and community college funds. And the GOP’s initial response reflected the party’s internal pressure against helping the Democratic president achieve resounding success.
Even without the last-minute drama, both measures have always faced a particularly tricky path, given the tiny Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Success will require the following:
- Enough Republican support in the face of likely opposition from GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to ensure the infrastructure compromise gets the necessary 60 votes in the Senate and the required majority in the House, especially as some Liberal Democrats may oppose it.
- The votes of the two most conservative Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, for the biggest human infrastructure package. He will need the support of the 50 Senate Democrats because he is unlikely to attract Republican votes.
- Support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill from top House Democrats like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow team members who may see it as insufficient. He asks them to put the general party agenda ahead of their personal preferences.
- Senate approval from both sides before the House votes on either, a pledge Pelosi made to allay progressive concerns.
To complicate matters, Congress’ next agenda also includes the still controversial measure to increase the legal limit on federal debt, which Democrats will likely have to pass without Republican votes, and bills funding the government after October 1. .
To do all of this, Biden and the Democrats have two things in their favor. First, approval for Biden’s employment remains stable and there is broad public support for rebuilding physical infrastructure with overdue projects in every state and district.
Second, Democratic lawmakers recognize that this is their chance to skip many long-standing political priorities and show the nation ahead of next year’s midterm elections that they can rule. “It’s our only big shot,” Ocasio-Cortez conceded on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.
Still, many Republicans may ultimately be reluctant to vote which could make the Democratic president look good. That’s why many pessimists in town think that in a stranded Washington, it’s wiser to bet something won’t happen than it will.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers can write to him by email at [email protected]