President Biden hit the road Tuesday to continue making the case that a bipartisan and pared-down version of the infrastructure bill is necessary, as the plan’s future teeters amid congressional negotiations.
“This deal isn’t just the sum of its parts. It’s a signal to ourselves, and to the world, that American democracy can come through and deliver for all our people,” Biden said in Wisconsin, making his first pitch beyond the Washington Beltway for the newly slimmed-down infrastructure deal. He delivered his remarks from a municipal transit utility in La Crosse County, a Democratic-friendly area that voted for him by over 10 points in the 2020 general election.
"I'm going to be out there making the case for the American people until this job is done, until we bring this bipartisan bill home," Biden added.
The president's strategy on the infrastructure package will likely mimic the White House’s pandemic relief strategy, which gained support from a majority of Americans, including many Republican and independent voters. Biden and other senior White House officials portrayed that package as bipartisan — because they had support from GOP voters and mayors across the country — despite receiving no Republican votes in Congress. Democrats were then able to pass the relief package into law through the process of budget reconciliation, which allowed it to clear the Senate with 50 Democratic votes.
But with the current bill, Biden’s pursuit of bipartisanship could end up costing him votes from his own party. The agreed-to infrastructure deal remains just a framework, with the actual text of the legislation still to be seen. Some Senate Democrats have said they won’t support it without additional guarantees on a second package addressing progressive priorities, though it’s unclear whether they’re posturing for negotiating purposes or drawing a true line in the sand, as many on the left feel their priorities — such as student loan forgiveness and an increased minimum wage — repeatedly abandoned by the White House.
The White House and Democrats are now attempting to move through a delicate two-track process. The first plank is the bipartisan bill, providing funding for bridges, roads, water pipes, broadband internet and rail. That would take 60 votes in the Senate to pass, requiring Republican support and giving moderates an across-the-aisle win. The second plank contains other Biden promises and Democratic priorities on climate and the care economy, funded through increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. That would be passed through the reconciliation process used earlier this year on COVID relief.
The president initially said he wouldn’t sign the bipartisan agreement if it didn’t reach his desk with the reconciliation bill, but he walked back those comments over the weekend, saying in a statement, "My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a lead negotiator on the bipartisan talks, said on Sunday he took Biden at his word that he would sign it.
“A lot of my colleagues were very concerned about what the president was saying on Friday. But I think the waters have been calmed by what he said on Saturday,” Romney told CNN.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not hold a vote on the bipartisan deal until both pieces of legislation have been approved by the Senate. It’s unclear if either bill has enough votes to pass at this point, with negotiations swirling and the need for all 50 Senate Democrats to be on the same page on reconciliation.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continued to endorse the two-track approach, saying, "One can't be done without the other ... and I think our members, across the spectrum, realize that.” On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democratic congressional leaders to follow Biden’s lead and delink the two bills. Earlier this month, Politico reported that Senate Republicans were hoping to halt much of Biden’s broader agenda by supporting the slimmer infrastructure deal.
A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 6 in 10 self-declared Republicans support the $1.2 trillion compromise bill, with overall support at 51 percent of Americans versus 17 percent opposed. That same survey found 50 percent of Americans in favor of Biden's broader $4 trillion plan, with 32 percent opposed.
Biden promoted the deal in an op-ed published on Yahoo News on Monday, calling it “the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure in nearly a century.” However, he also conceded that the bill is “missing some critical initiatives on climate change that I proposed” but said he hoped to have those in the reconciliation bill.
Biden and the White House have pushed back on the idea that the deal has nothing on climate. In his op-ed, the president touted the bill’s investment in the power grid, electric buses and electric vehicle charging stations, and press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that officials have been in touch with skeptical progressives on the Hill. She stressed that there was plenty in the current framework that includes things a “number of members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would be excited about and support.”
On Monday, New York Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, who hail from the progressive wing of the party, joined demonstrators from the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate activism group, who were protesting outside the White House for their priorities not to be left out of the legislative package.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, tweeted Sunday, “Let me be clear: There will not be a bipartisan infrastructure deal without a reconciliation bill that substantially improves the lives of working families and combats the existential threat of climate change. No reconciliation bill, no deal. We need transformative change NOW.”
There was some good news for the White House on Sunday, when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he was “all for” passing a second bill via reconciliation. Manchin was a lead negotiator in the bipartisan talks, but he told ABC News, “We’ve worked on the one track. We’re going to work on the second track. There’s an awful lot of need.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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