Sen. Joe Manchin continues to insist that there will be 10 Republicans willing to help Democrats on getting anything passed in the Senate if Democrats are just nice enough to them, Republican senators are not spending their time talking to their colleagues about common ground. Even on infrastructure, the bill with the most potential for really great stuff they can bring home for their constituents. No, with the bill still in the earliest drafting phases where good-faith Republicans could be having valid input, they’re plotting all the ways to derail it.
“It’s a target rich environment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican member on the Senate Budget Committee. “There are a lot of problems.” That’s because of Democrats’ intent to use budget reconciliation, the process that lets legislation pass with simple majority votes, not subject to the filibuster. That advantage comes with some strict procedural rules about what’s allowed or not allowed to be included in these kinds of bills. Graham will take the lead in making procedural objections to the bill, and he’s already working on figuring out how to do that. When the bill isn’t even written. The bill that Republicans could actually benefit from—or their constituents could, anyway—with vast new projects on the ground at home that would provide good living-wage jobs. Which is all you need to know about Manchin’s conviction that Republicans will ever be helpful.
That’s the message coming from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chair of the Budget Committee. “I personally don’t think the Republicans are serious about addressing the major crises facing this country. Maybe I’m wrong, but we’re certainly not going to wait for an indefinite period of time,” he told Politico. He would know, having to deal with Graham as the GOP leader on his committee. “We’re gonna move forward rapidly,” Sanders vowed. “They have something to say? Now is the time to say it.” Yes, it would be, but they’re too busy trying to figure out how to keep stuff out of it.
The warning from Sanders is ostensibly to President Biden, out of concern that he will be too willing to waste time trying to bring Republicans on board when he wants to go so big—$2 trillion—and they say that maybe they’ll stretch to $800 billion. This follows Biden’s pronouncement on Monday that he is “prepared to compromise” on the package, at another meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, all former governors and mayors. At the same time, Biden said while he wants a bipartisan bill, he’s fine with Democrats going it alone with reconciliation if that’s what it is going to take to get the bill done.
Given that Biden has been through this game with Republicans once already on the American Rescue Plan, his COVID-19 relief bill, it’s not time for Democrats to be panicking about his intentions to sacrifice all his bold plans at the alter of bipartisanship. We’re seeing very much a replay of that package—Biden invites them to participate, asks for their input, and when it doesn’t materialize moves forward without them. He’s already delivered that message to Republicans, and reminded them that “Republican voters agree with what I’m doing.”
He can also argue that he’s got corporate America increasingly on his side. The fact that the Chamber of Commerce hasn’t come out in opposition to Biden’s infrastructure plan and endorses the investment parts of it, and that big tech is essentially onboard with Biden’s plan—even with a corporate tax hike—is a real blow to Republicans. When a corporate interest group calls it “A deal the tech industry can embrace: Pay more taxes, get better infrastructure,” Republicans have to blanche. That’s a corporate endorsement of higher taxes, on themselves. What are Republicans going to find to fight against in this?
Particularly when there’s support from voters for Biden’s ideas. Biden and his team have continued to push the winning idea from the rescue package that “bipartisan” doesn’t mean winning over Senate Republicans. “If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn said of the debate a few weeks ago. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki delivered the message again after Biden’s meeting Monday, in which he told the bipartisan group that not acting is not an option. Psaki said “the only thing we cannot do is fail to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, rebuild our economy, and create millions of jobs.”
Which is as much a message for those “moderate” Democrats who continue to insist that Republicans really want to help as it is to those Republicans. That’s what Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat who attended the White House meeting Monday, appeared to come out of the meeting with. She told reporters afterward that while talks with Republicans are moving, everyone needs to be “working towards a yes. Not some of us working toward a yes and negotiating against ourselves, and others working toward a no and negotiating down a bill that’s so important for our community.”
That’s where the bulk of Democratic senators are coming down on the debate—all seeming to speak as much to holdouts like Joe Manchin as to Republicans. “It’s the right thing to do to engage in good faith. But remember, [there’s a] pattern […] that can’t be repeated of [Republicans] just trying to stall and burn time,” Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon told Politico. “I would support using reconciliation, but you’ve got to have 50 votes. And it’s not clear that’s a path available to us at this point.” Because, again, Manchin insists that there be Republicans included, the same Republicans who are right now spending more time on how to derail the bill than crafting it.
Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden pretty much summed up the Democrats message to hold-outs like Manchin. “At some point, if you just see that there’s no real effort to kind of bridge a reasonable bipartisan agreement, you’ve got to go. Because that’s what people are counting on. […] You reach that point, when if you wait any longer, people get hurt.”