Let’s make a (infrastructure) deal… or not

We are now in roughly the fifteenth week of “infrastructure week” and we don’t appear any closer to a deal than we were in February. But that’s not stopping the White House from continuing to put on very public displays of how “reasonable” Joe Biden is being in trying to reach across the aisle to any persuadable Republicans. (There’s a reason for that which we’ll get to in a moment.) The latest front in this dogfight showed up yesterday when Jen Psaki described for reporters the next infrastructure package being offered for consideration. The price tag on this one has been trimmed down from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion. So yes, that’s a half-trillion dollars less, but still well more than a trillion dollars higher than what the Senate GOP had previously offered. ($568 billion.) Some Republicans immediately panned the offer and I’ve yet to find one of them saying that they’re even considering it. (Associated Press)

The prospects for an ambitious infrastructure deal have been thrown into serious doubt after the White House reduced President Joe Biden’s sweeping proposal to $1.7 trillion but Republican senators rejected the compromise as disappointing, saying “vast differences” remain.

While talks have not collapsed, the downbeat assessment is certain to mean new worries from Democrats that time is slipping to strike a deal. The president’s team is holding to a soft Memorial Day deadline to determine whether a compromise is within reach. Skepticism had been rising on all sides over the lack of significant movement off Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan or the GOP’s proposed $568 billion alternative.

“This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, disclosing the new offer Friday as talks were underway between key Cabinet secretaries and GOP senators at a crucial stage toward a deal.

There wasn’t much in the way of specifics offered in terms of where the cuts are being made in this “reasonable counteroffer” aside from saying they were areas that are important to the President. They did say that proposed spending for broadband had been reduced to match the GOP offer and the cost for roads and bridges was closer to what the Republican senators had asked for. Psaki calls it “the art of seeking common ground.” (I suppose saying “the art of the deal” would have been a bit tone-deaf.) It’s described as “a willingness to come down in size.”

Here’s the clip from the press conference. Notice how much time is spent describing how wonderfully reasonable Biden is being.

I hope you’ll pardon me for being less than impressed with this new era of bipartisan reasonableness that’s being described. We already saw what Team Biden’s idea of “compromise” is when the COVID relief bill went through. It involved zero compromises and zero Republican votes, relying on an abuse of the reconciliation process to jam it through.

So with that bit of history for context, what’s behind this new, downscaled offer? I would suggest that two things should immediately come to mind. First, Chuck Schumer has finished whipping the votes for the $2.3 trillion bill that includes massive tax hikes and has figured out that there is no chance he gets to fifty votes in the Senate. If the votes were there, we would still be sitting at $2.3 trillion and they would be moving toward reconciliation again. Joe Manchin has already said he’s not signing off on the tax hikes and doesn’t want to use reconciliation again, so this is probably an effort intended to get Collins or Murkowski to say ‘well, at least they were willing to compromise‘ and use that as cover for flipping.

This proposal can also be seen as a backup plan intended to cover the Democrats’ collective butts if the entire deal falls apart and there is no infrastructure bill. They’ll hold up this offer as proof that the GOP is just the “party of no” and wouldn’t listen to reason. How well that plays in the swing states is anybody’s guess at this point.

Let’s also point out that the two specific areas where Biden is offering to make cuts are broadband and roads and bridges. Those items (particularly the highway portion) are arguably some of the only actual infrastructure pieces in the bill. We’re not seeing any offer to reduce the green energy and climate change aspects of it or the rest of the liberal wishlist items that were crammed into the bill.

Joe Biden has a very easy path forward, but I doubt he’s going to take it. There’s already a GOP plan on the table that actually addresses real infrastructure needs. It’s even been expanded a bit to include repairing and “smartening” our energy grid, a proposal that I’m all in favor of. In the interest of actually getting some work done, the Senate Republicans would absolutely agree to bump up the original $568 billion offer, provided it didn’t soar up past the trillion-dollar mark. I could see them easily agreeing to $750 billion as a nice, round number.

But that wouldn’t come across as forcing through Biden’s liberal agenda that his left flank is clamoring for. Because of that, the White House looks like it would rather starve than settle for half a loaf.

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