Talks between Republicans and the White House on cobbling together a legislative package on infrastructure collapsed on Tuesday as the president’s insistence on “going big” ran up against the reality of how to pay for his spending schemes.
The president was under enormous pressure from his far-left base to ditch the talks and have the Democrats go it alone on infrastructure. That would mean trying to ram a bill through the Senate using reconciliation, a strategy that two Democratic senators have said they would not vote for.
But Biden isn’t exactly back to square one. There is another bipartisan group of senators trying to come up with a legislative package that could pass muster in the Senate. Unfortunately, they are running into the same problems that plagued the president’s efforts and are not likely to succeed.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, part of the group negotiating with the White House, summed up the problem with negotiations succinctly. Biden continues “to satisfy an insatiable far-left agenda that demands massive tax hikes, and spending trillions of dollars on things unrelated to physical infrastructure.”
Indeed, even at the end of his talks with Republicans, Biden was insisting that the package include health care and child care money — not exactly what you’d expect when trying to fix roads and bridges.
The White House had trimmed its original $2.3 trillion proposal down to about a trillion dollars — still too much for Republicans who didn’t approve of how Biden wanted to pay for it. Raising corporate taxes when the nation is struggling to recover from a pandemic is economic suicide.
Admittedly, the Republican counteroffer to raise gas taxes wouldn’t have come close to funding their own $928 billion offer. The rest of the money would have come from raiding the remaining funds allocated in the stimulus bill — a no-go area for Biden.
All of this was seen as a waste of time by the radicals, and many in the Republican base agreed. But there is rare consensus in Congress that something has to be done about our crumbling roads and bridges. And Republicans don’t want to be too obvious about being obstructionist.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday before talks collapsed, Schumer said Democrats are proceeding on two paths.
On one track are newly emerging conversations between Biden and the bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sinema and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who are “trying to put something together that might be close to what the president needs.” It’s unclear what size that package might be. At the same time, however, Schumer said Democrats are getting to work on a reconciliation package that might only need support from Democrats, acknowledging that their party is unlikely to accomplish everything they hope in a bill crafted alongside the GOP.
Biden appears to be playing the long game, assuming the bipartisan talks will fail, so he can implement the radicals’ spending plan via reconciliation. Republicans had little interest in helping Biden but thought that failure of the talks could be pinned on the president. Neither side is likely to succeed as long as Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema oppose the use of reconciliation.
However, Schumer is going to spend this month forcing the Republicans to use the filibuster time and time again, hoping to show Manchin and Sinema that their position on reconciliation is condemning Biden’s entire agenda to failure. Meanwhile, the pressure on the two senators from the radicals and party leadership will make it increasingly difficult for them to say “no.”
It should be a very interesting month.