This wasn’t at all predictable. Minutes after President Joe Biden finished his press conference announcing the skinny bipartisan infrastructure deal, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attacked, blasting Biden and the deal. “Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it. It was a tale of two press conferences,” McConnell said on the floor Thursday afternoon, referring to Biden’s brief appearance with the senators in the group after the meeting and then his White House press conference.
“It almost makes your head spin,” McConnell said. “An expression of bipartisanship and then an ultimatum on behalf of your left-wing base.” That’s in response to Biden reiterating what had been clear all week—he would also work with Democrats on a budget reconciliation bill that could pass with just Democratic votes. “I have no doubt that the president is under enormous pressure from some on the left to deliver a laundry list of radical climate demands,” McConnell griped. “Really, caving completely in less than two hours, that’s not the way to show you’re serious about getting a bipartisan outcome,” he said. Biden said at the press conference: “If only one comes to me, this is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it.” It seems like McConnell is making sure that only one bill—budget reconciliation—has a chance of making it to Biden’s desk.
Immediately following McConnell’s tirade, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham followed suit. Graham had been one of the larger group of 10 Republicans who signed on the idea of a bipartisan bill. Only five of them were on hand Thursday to discuss the proposal. Graham did what he does best these days, threw a snarling hissy fit: “If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Graham said. “I’m not doing that. That’s extortion! I’m not going to do that. The Dems are being told you can’t get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game.”
Then he put his colleagues, the five who negotiated with Biden, on notice, saying they could not have been aware of Biden’s intent to link the bills (despite a full week of reporting that that was exactly what was in the works). “Most Republicans could not have known that,” he said. “There’s no way. You look like a fucking idiot now.” He added, “I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”
Then it was Sen. Susan Collins’ turn. “There’s no need for that,” meaning the tying together of the two efforts. “It seems to me that we should get this done,” she said. She just reeks of disappointment in Biden, doesn’t she.
The two track process wasn’t just sprung on Republicans. Leader Schumer and Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders started working on it over a week ago. Senate and House Democrats have been saying for at least a couple of weeks that they couldn’t support a bill that didn’t have the larger climate and care economy goals from Biden’s original plan. This wasn’t sprung on them—none can really express surprise that Biden said both have to succeed for either to get his signature.
Republicans dragged the process out for weeks on end, wasting valuable time and sucking all the energy out of the momentum Biden and Democrats had after passing the big COVID-19 relief bill. Then when they had Biden and a group of Democrats hooked, they’re trying to pull the rug out from under them. At this point, it’s hard to imagine more than half a dozen Republicans eventually voting for the infrastructure bill. McConnell has made it very clear now that he’s not going to let 10 of his Republicans vote for it, as many as are needed to actually have the bill overcome a filibuster.
That’s not necessarily bad, as long as Democrats can hold together on reconciliation. The $1 trillion bipartisan deal has problems. It includes $579 billion in new spending, down from the multiple trillions Biden originally called for. In addition to increasing IRS enforcement on tax cheats, the “pay-fors” in this deal include cutting unemployment insurance (taking funds that had been earmarked for emergency UI in COVID relief packages), raising state and local taxes, selling broadband spectrum and oil, mandatory cuts to other programs in extending the sequester, and then selling off public assets to private equity firms. Some of the climate-related components in it include $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations; $7.5 billion for electric buses; $21 billion for environmental remediation; $73 billion to shore up the power infrastructure; and $47 billion in climate “resilience” efforts.
Biden’s original proposal for $2.25 trillion on the American Jobs Plan includes $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, and roads. It has another $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for Amtrak, and $174 billion to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, to electrify 20% of school buses, and to electrify the federal fleet. He’d spend $100 billion on broadband, $25 billion for airports, and $111 billion for water projects.