President Biden will invite the group, headed up by West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito, to the White House for discussions, just as he did on COVID-19 relief. It’s likely to be deja vu all over again, when Biden point blank told the Republicans that their proposal wasn’t good enough.
Or as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said of the meeting: “the President also reiterated his view that Congress must respond boldly and urgently, and noted many areas with the Republican senators’ proposal does not address,” and that “he will not slow down on work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”
So when Capito told reporters Thursday, “I think it’s important for you all to realize that this is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” it definitely felt like a “please clap” moment. “This is a robust package,” she insisted. Never mind that “details of any financing remained vague” and the one idea they have—imposing user fees on electric vehicles—can’t begin to fund it. There just aren’t enough of them on the roads.
What the group was certain about was standing by their 2017 tax scam, and no new taxes. But also no new spending. “The point is not to go out and incur new and additional debt,” Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey said. That is the rationale for Republicans rejecting almost any new spending projects: just tacking some increases to existing programs and clawing back any unspent COVID-19 relief funding.
Toomey insisted they would not agree to rolling back any of the tax scam cuts, arguing Biden and Democrats would hurt the national economy “by ruining the tax reform”—the tax “reform” that did not work to boost investment, create jobs, or increase worker pay.
Just two Democratic senators gave the Republicans’ proposal any credence, predictably Sens. Joe Manchin and Chris Coons. Manchin called it “basically a negotiating starting point.” Coons said he was “encouraged” by the proposal. “It strikes me as a serious attempt at providing a counteroffer that meets the general framework that I was hoping for.”
He’s pretty much the only Democrat to call it serious. “It fails to meet the moment we’re in,” Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said, adding it was “not a proposal I could support.” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden deemed it “far too small” and said it simply “paves over the status quo … The contrast could not be more stark,” he said of the difference between the Democratic and Republican proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Budget Committee chair who will have a lot of say in the process of getting this passed, was even more blunt: “It goes nowhere near what has to be done to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and the funding is totally regressive and anti-working class,” he said. “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we’ve got to ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, not demand more taxes on the middle class and working families.”
Sanders will once again be at the helm of any process of passing this bill by budget reconciliation, which would allow it to escape the filibuster and pass with just Democratic votes. That’s still a possibility, and Sanders is there to remind both Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats like Manchin and Coons of that fact.
For now, the game of bipartisanship has to continue. That’s how Biden is going to demonstrate that Republicans aren’t negotiating in good faith, and how he gets the support of even more business groups for his plan. He’s already got plenty of support from voters, something the business groups backing Republicans are reminding them of. If they don’t want to see a repeat of the COVID-19 bill when they were left out in the cold, they need to work with Democrats.
The flip side is Biden demonstrating to Democrats who insist they’ll refuse to do this without Republicans (Manchin) and that they won’t abolish the filibuster (Sinema) that there really isn’t any other option. Play along with the Republicans until they once again prove that they won’t do anything to help pass a bill, and put those Democrats in the hot seat as the enablers of gridlock.