Congress returns this week after a two-week recess with just as many crises to deal with as there was before the break, and a Senate just as clogged up as ever thanks in no small part to Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Their intransigence on the filibuster and doing more critical Senate work by budget reconciliation, which can be done with just Democratic votes, is contributing to a Senate backlog.
Manchin continues to insist that there has to be 10 Republican votes to pass anything, while this is actually a thing: “Perhaps Democrats’ best chance of making a law is over a bill aimed at combating the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans, but even that is facing resistance from some Senate Republicans who are trying to block the measure ahead of a key procedural vote expected Wednesday.” That’s Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to a Chinese-American person: Elaine Chao.
Nonetheless, President Joe Biden is continuing his quest to get Republicans on board with his infrastructure plan. He’s meeting Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including “Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alex Padilla of California; Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Democratic Reps. Donald M. Payne, Jr. of New Jersey and David Price of North Carolina and Republican Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Don Young of Alaska.”
That invitation to Republicans to cooperate was echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “The door is open,” she said. “Our hand is extended. Let’s find out where we can find our common ground. We always have a responsibility to strive for bipartisanship.”
They’re certainly getting a wishlist of Republican projects. “My phone is blowing up,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told The New York Times, pointing out that just about every lawmaker “can point to a road or a bridge or an airport” back home that is crumbling. “There’s a ton of interest from Congress,” he said. That includes a major bridge in Kentucky that McConnell wants to see replaced, though McConnell is still promising to “fight” Biden’s proposals “every step of the way.” Since that bridge connects Kentucky and Ohio, maybe he’s counting on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown to take care of it while he keeps up this fight.
Buttigieg’s department sent an email to House and Senate members last week detailing how the transportation chunk of the proposal—$621 billion—was structured for their projects, including $174 billion for electric vehicles; $115 billion for road and bridge repair and construction; $85 billion for public transit; $25 billion for airports; and $17 billion for ports and waterways.
Biden and team continue to push the winning idea from the rescue package that “bipartisan” doesn’t necessarily mean winning over Senate Republicans. “If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” said senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.” That’s reinforcing what Biden himself said in Pittsburg a few weeks ago when he unveiled the new infrastructure package. “Everybody said I had no bipartisan support,” on the COVID-19 relief package. “The overwhelming bipartisan support were Republican—registered Republican voters.”
The administration can point to plenty of public polling to prove that’s true of his infrastructure proposals, too—including the $400 billion he wants to spend on what Republicans insist isn’t “real” infrastructure. The investment in caregiving for seniors and the disabled gets high marks from Republican voters as well as Democrats and independents.
“The Biden definition of bipartisanship is an agenda that unifies the country and appeals across the political spectrum,” Mike Donilon, a senior Biden adviser, told The Washington Post. “I think it’s a pretty good definition to say you’re pursuing an agenda that will unite the country, that will bring Democrats and Republicans together across the country. Presumably, if you have an agenda that is broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans across the country, then you should have elected representatives reflecting that.”
Tell it to Sen. Susan Collins, McConnell’s most useful person to trot out to whine about how mean Democrats are. “The question before us is this: is this outreach the beginning of a true negotiation, or is the administration so wedded to the details of its plan, including its exorbitant top line, that these are just courtesy briefings?” she said in a statement to the Post. “I have no reason to believe that his entire philosophy has changed, but I do think that there is a lot of pressure on him from his staff and from outside far-left groups.” Collins’ previous effort at “bipartisanship” was offering up a Trojan horse of a skinny COVID-19 relief plan that was one-third of what Biden was asking for, with no money for state or local governments.
It didn’t work on Biden for COVID-19 relief, and it’s not going to work this time either. “Debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable, changes are certain,” Biden said last week. “I would like Republican—elected Republican—support. But what I have now is, I have electoral support from Republican voters. Republican voters agree with what I’m doing.”
Infrastructure isn’t the only issue on which Biden has broad bipartisan support, nor is it the only issue log-jammed by a 50-50 Democrat-Republican Senate operating with a filibuster. Gun safety, voting rights, hate crimes, immigration—all of these are pressing legislative matters facing Congress right now. Leadership wants to have infrastructure done before the July 4 recess, so something is going to have to break between now and then on the filibuster. Hopefully it will be Manchin and Sinema’s bull-headedness.