It was all happy talk from both the White House and Senate Republicans coming out of Thursday’s infrastructure meeting, with President Biden stressing that everyone was working in “good faith” and telling reporter that he was “prepared to compromise.” For the Republicans’ part, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the lead in negotiations for the GOP, said it was “very productive” and a “more than courteous give-and-take.”

Biden gave the Republicans homework, which has be a shock to their systems. Capito said after the meeting: “The President has asked us to come back and rework and offer so that he can then react to that and then re-offer to us.” She added that “more detail is what we need to get them so they can react more specifically.”  

Yes, more detail. For the past four years, Republicans have been talking and talking and talking about infrastructure without actually doing anything. The chances that they went into that room Thursday with anything more concrete that “no corporate tax hikes” is nil.

Scratch that, they do have another idea.


Yep, Republicans want to pay for infrastructure rebuilding by making the poor schlubs who have to drive to work every day pay more: user fees, toll roads, gas taxes. That hits low- and middle-income people disproportionately harder, and they already face higher transportation costs relative to their incomes.

Astoundingly some Democrats are down with that, like Virginia’s Mark Warner, who also happens to be the second richest senator after Mitt Romney. “User fees have to be part of the mix,” he told Axios this week. Bad look, senator. As Kerry Eleveld says, “That is about the dumbest position Democrats could adopt as a message heading into 2022.”

Luckily there are less well-heeled Democrats around to set him straight. Like President Biden. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Friday that user fees are not on the table for Biden. He will not break his pledge not to raise taxes on people making less than $400,000.

That some Senate Democrats (like Kyrsten Sinema and Tom Carper) are also pushing user fees, as if it would actually end up making Republicans automatically decide to play nice and vote for the bill—laughable, yet at the same time profoundly discouraging. There shouldn’t be so many gullible Democrats anymore, not after all the years with Mitch McConnell as Republican leader.

Given how many Republicans have been out there claiming responsibility for the good stuff in Biden’s COVID-19 relief law when they unanimously voted against it, Democrats should be getting the lesson. Republicans are going to stay in the negotiations solely for the purpose of weakening the bill. They will accept the offered bribes of special projects in their districts and states included in the bill and then 99% of them, if not 100%, will vote against it, forcing Democrats to pass as much of it as they can with budget reconciliation and a simple majority vote.

Then Republicans will run home, where they will rebuke Biden and the Democrats for not being bipartisan and at the same time take credit for the great projects that will soon be happening. Because that’s what they do.

Biden needs to take the same tack with these Democrats as he has with Republicans: Keep them on a short leash and give them homework. One good task he should impose would be to practice message discipline, and stop them from going out in public saying things like: “I wish the president had not taken user fees off the table, whether gas tax or miles traveled. I think user fees make sense.”

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