President Joe Biden is meeting with top lawmakers from both parties this week in search of bipartisan support for his jobs and infrastructure plan. Meanwhile, frustrated progressives are urging Democrats to use their slim majority in Congress to bypass Republican opposition and deliver results to voters ahead of the 2022 midterm election season.
Biden is scheduled to host his first White House meeting on Wednesday with the “big four” congressional leaders: Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their Democratic counterparts, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They will discuss “policy areas of mutual agreement” and “identify common ground” for working together on challenges facing the nation, according to the White House.
However, progressives warn that Biden’s quest for bipartisanship is quixotic at best and could backfire if attempts at compromise dilute the president’s ambitions on infrastructure or simply devolve into partisan gridlock in Congress, giving Republicans another line of attack ahead of the midterms. It was McConnell, after all, who led the Republican effort to obstruct President Barack Obama’s agenda and win majorities in Congress, further impeding Obama’s plans through his second term.
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has tossed aside any façade of supposed bipartisan engagement and has now positioned himself exactly the way he did during the Obama administration,” said Mike Fox, a director of operations at Progressive Democrats of America, in an email to supporters. “Republicans will offer no solutions to the problems facing our country, and will simply obstruct.”
Indeed, McConnell told reporters in Kentucky last week that “100 percent” of the GOP’s focus “is on stopping this new administration.”
The Biden administration proposes raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to fund the American Jobs Plan, a $2.3 trillion investment in public infrastructure aimed at modernizing public education, confronting the “climate crisis” and “racial injustice,” improving public transit, repairing roads and bridges, replacing lead pipes, boosting broadband internet service, hiring caregivers for children and the elderly, and creating “millions” of unionized jobs in the process. However, top Republicans have already balked at the tax hikes and price tag while painting the plan as a liberal wish list.
In Kentucky on Sunday, McConnell said that the infrastructure package should not cost more than $800 billion, less than a third of the spending proposed by Biden. Over the weekend, McCarthy said in an interview that there is no “need to spend these trillions of dollars” on infrastructure and claimed the plan’s proposed incentives for buying electric vehicles would raise utility bills, a common refrain among conservatives who oppose taking action to reduce fossil fuel emissions driving the climate crisis.
On Thursday, Biden will also meet with five Republican senators who have low-balled Biden with a $568 billion infrastructure counteroffer that Democrats deride as woefully inadequate for meeting the country’s needs. The outcome of both meetings will signal whether Democrats can work with Republicans on infrastructure (and by extension, many future issues in Congress), or if they must simply unite their slim majority and proceed without a GOP that remains largely beholden to Donald Trump and is attacking Democrats with misinformation in a bid to win back seats next November.
In a recent television interview, Sen. Bernie Sanders reacted to Biden administration officials who see potential for finding common ground with Republicans on infrastructure and the economy.
“In general, I don’t agree with that.… The bottom line is the American people want results,” Sanders said.
Sanders is in a key position to build toward Democratic success. As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders has control over the “budget reconciliation” process that Democrats used in March to quickly approve $1.9 trillion in emergency pandemic and economic relief spending without any Republican votes. Unless they use that budget maneuver or change parliamentary rules, Democrats must sway at least 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster and pass legislation in the Senate.
White House officials have said they would like to see progress on infrastructure by the end of May and a bill passed this summer, putting a vague deadline on Biden’s attempt to drum up Republican support for a bipartisan bill. Other Democratic priorities, including voting rights legislation aimed at thwarting state-level GOP voter suppression efforts, face partisan opposition from Republicans and would only pass with votes along party lines — if Democrats are able to overcome internal differences and dodge the filibuster.
“Congress takes breaks and it’s easy to obstruct.… If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great,” Sanders said. “If not, we’re going to do it alone.”
Reports suggest that the White House see the potential for a political win if Republicans and Democrats can agree on a smaller infrastructure package that focuses on what is traditionally considered infrastructure, such as dams, bridges and roads, leaving out social welfare investments in community colleges and caregivers for children and the elderly, for example. Since the GOP would never agree to Biden’s proposed tax hikes — even though taxing corporations and the wealthy is notably popular among voters — Democrats could pass separate tax legislation on a party-line vote to finance infrastructure improvements.
A bipartisan infrastructure deal may be of particular interest to Biden, who has pledged to unite the country around common interests and get things done. However, Biden must also contend with divisions within the Democratic Caucus over key issues, such as the push by progressives to make a temporary child tax credit included in the pandemic relief package permanent. While some centrist Democrats are eager to negotiate across the aisle on infrastructure, progressives are ready move with or without Republicans to deliver tangible results to voters that Democrats can tout as they defend their majority in the midterms.