Why the infrastructure deal is so important to Joe Biden

Senators walked out of yet another marathon session of infrastructure negotiations on Wednesday, saying they had sealed the framework of a deal worth about $ 1.2 trillion with $ 579 billion in new spending , and planned to discuss it Thursday with Biden, whose team informed him on Wednesday night. .

“I think it’s going to be positive,” said Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana.

Senators said that while some details still had to be worked out and legislative language written, the White House had approved the first two digits and details of how the measure would be paid for. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a “potential deal” was at hand and confirmed Biden would host senators on Thursday. The talks had taken place in a rage for a final deal, even though it was still not a “deal done,” a close source said.

The breakthrough will mean that the president’s willingness to give the Senate time to find a rare compromise has paid off. The pact will, however, fall far short of the much more ambitious plan Biden initially presented and is sure to dismay Liberals in the Democratic Party, who are demanding a complementary proposal worth $ 6 trillion that they will try to make. pass through the 50-50. Senate using only Democratic votes.

The sudden rush for progress in an often-lagging institution was sparked by the approaching July 4 recess, which effectively begins in the Senate Thursday night. Legislative time is scarce after that until after Labor Day.

The compressed timeline comes at a time when Biden and the Democrats are in desperate need of a victory. Since the president signed a $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in March, it often seems like minority Republicans are leading the ship. The GOP crushed two Democratic priorities – a bipartisan, independent committee on the Jan.6 insurgency, and used blocking blocking tactics on Tuesday to kill a sweeping voting rights bill. These steps further convinced Liberal Democrats that Biden’s hopes of working with an opposition party that no longer seems to care about democracy are futile.

But Wednesday night’s developments suggest that a group of Republican senators also saw a political advantage in a measure that would spend money to repair crumbling roads, bridges, railroads and airports in a move that has loosened the normally rigid partisan estrangement on Capitol Hill. This move puts Biden on the verge of finally realizing the bipartisan infrastructure dream that former President Donald Trump so dramatically failed to achieve.

Biden needs a win

An infrastructure bill would be especially important to Biden, as first-term presidencies are all momentum-driven, as a president’s power to force action tends to weaken quickly. If Biden doesn’t rack up a few legacy achievements soon, his ability to do so will diminish. And Democrats are also anxiously watching the calendar knowing that their precarious grip on power on Capitol Hill could end after next year’s midterm elections.

Infrastructure and policing initiatives are key strategic priorities. But for Biden, they also have symbolic meaning. In his inaugural address in January, the president said politics “need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path” and that Americans should treat each other as neighbors. and not as adversaries. If the president fails to strike a deal on infrastructure in particular, it’s hard to see other policy areas where he could – and a central premise of his 2020 campaign will be called into question.

This explains the president’s willingness to reduce the expansive vision of his original plan, cutting spending on things like home health care and housing to satisfy the Republicans’ vision of roads and bridges on infrastructure. He also dropped his insistence that the bill should be funded by increased corporate taxes as the GOP seeks to block the Trump White House tax reform bill.

While Biden has infuriated many on his side, a bipartisan bill signing ceremony would be politically valuable for a president who presented a moderate image, despite the considerable ambition of his national agenda.

Voters who are not particularly tuned in to the obscure complications of filibuster rules and the dangers of congressional thin minorities would see a president say he kept his word – a valuable weapon halfway through.

Progressives “at the end of their patience”

It is uncertain whether the surge in infrastructure spending and police reform will die off if the deals are not finalized on Thursday. And both proposals, even if accepted, would still face a complicated path to law.

But forward movement on both tracks could easily stall over the next break if deals aren’t made now. If an infrastructure package did not emerge, Biden and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would face pressure to stop talks with frustrated progressive Republicans.

“I’m definitely at the end of my tether and we’re running out of time for infrastructure,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told CNN’s Manu Raju ahead of Wednesday’s deal announcement.

Another reason it’s maybe now or never for these key agenda items is that when Congress returns after Labor Day, it will have to face what promises to be an uphill battle. to raise the debt ceiling that will exhaust any slim appetite for bipartisanship as next year’s midterm elections loom.

Negotiators worked Wednesday night to seek an infrastructure deal – seeking the membership of a group of Republican senators who would help them bypass the minority filibuster offensive.

At the heart of the action – the second attempt to strike a bipartisan deal – was West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin whose moderate leanings gave him extraordinary clout given the hefty calculations of a 50-50 Senate.

While Biden had the most to gain from infrastructure talks, Manchin’s credibility is also at stake. Many of his colleagues view the Mountain Stater’s perpetual quest for Republican support as naïve. He has already failed to change the GOP’s mind about the insurgency commission and voting rights.

Manchin’s insistence on conditioning his votes on measures supported by Republicans has effectively given the minority a powerful new tool – because by not cooperating they can effectively scuttle the Democratic agenda.

But the senator walked out of negotiations on Wednesday night and said: “Everyone in this room agreed on the framework.”

The sticking points of the deal boil down to how it will be funded. Republicans refuse to raise taxes. Biden opposed a GOP proposal to index the gasoline tax to inflation or charge drivers of electric vehicles.

A complicated legislative dance

If Biden approves, it will take complex choreography from Congress to get the bill through.

Progressives, dismayed at Biden’s reduced ambitions for the package, say they won’t secure their votes, including in the House of Representatives, without a concurrent bill that includes many measures Republicans withdrew from the plan initial of the president.

“These two things are going to, I think, have to travel together, so that either has a chance to pass,” Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.

The broader measure would force Schumer to use a device called reconciliation reserved for budget measures. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said on MSNBC Wednesday that he was certain moderate Democratic senators would support the two-track strategy.

But Manchin seemed disgusted at the size of the reconciliation bill his colleague from Vermont is drafting.

“It’s huge. We are very, very small,” Manchin told reporters outside the infrastructure talks. “We have a hard time reaching the small number – imagine a large old number. “

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged from a two-hour meeting with White House officials on Wednesday evening and expressed optimism that the two bills could be brought forward in July, a month which now promises to be a successful period for Biden’s agenda.

“One cannot be done without the other,” Schumer said.

There is, however, uncertainty as to whether enough Republicans will sign an infrastructure deal if it comes with a separate spending blitz that Democrats attempt to push through on their own.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this week on “Fox News Sunday” that such an approach would be “very problematic.”

“If you want to work with Republicans to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, it’s available to you,” Graham said, paraphrasing his message to Biden. “If you don’t want to go that route and choose a $ 6 trillion reconciliation package, I think you’re going to get a lot of hindsight from every Republican.”

As details of an infrastructure deal have exploded, negotiators seeking to narrow the gaps between Democrats and Republicans over police reform have yet to announce a deal. One of the negotiators, Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, had previously said a deal must be reached by the end of June.

One of the leading Democrats at the talks, California Rep. Karen Bass, told CNN on Wednesday that negotiations, stuck on the issue of court immunity for police officers accused of violent conduct, still had a way to go. .

A deal on police reform on Thursday before lawmakers go on vacation would turn what already looks like a great day for Biden into an even better day.

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