Breakdown: Biden ends talks with Capito over infrastructure

(AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

“I still have all the confidence in the world, Chris, we’re going to get there,” said Joe Manchin to Chris Wallace a few days ago when asked about an infrastructure deal. “My goodness, the president has gone from $2.25 trillion down to $1 trillion. The Republicans have come up quite a bit from where they started.”

That’s true, the two sides did move towards each other quite a bit. But only on spending.

And as of around 4:30 p.m. ET today, it was all for naught. Manchin’s colleague from West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito, had been the lead Republican negotiator with Biden on infrastructure but she issued a statement this afternoon announcing that negotiations were now over — at Biden’s insistence. How confident is Manchin feeling now?

Although the two sides had compromised on the price tag, they never really compromised on how to pay for it. Reportedly they were some $700 billion apart when Biden pulled the plug, with the GOP wanting him to use COVID relief funds to pay (which Biden wouldn’t do) and Biden wanting Republicans to agree to tax hikes (which the GOP wouldn’t do).

So that’s it? No more infrastructure deal?

Not exactly. Negotiations will continue with a bipartisan group of senators who are working on their own package:

Mitt Romney and Rob Portman are also involved the group, whose plan would reportedly cost around $900 billion and would aim to attract the votes of around 20 centrist senators. Biden doesn’t need 20 centrists, though, he needs 10 Republicans. And it’s unclear to me how he can get that if he couldn’t come to terms with Capito. If there are 10 Senate Republicans willing to raise taxes or cross some other line that Capito wasn’t willing to cross, on whose behalf was she negotiating?

Note the reference to reconciliation in Raju’s tweet. At least one Dem-led House committee has already begun marking up a bill in anticipation that it’ll be part of an eventual reconciliation package. The idea, apparently, is that Biden will give negotiations the ol’ college try with the Cassidy/Romney group and then, when those talks also break down, turn around and tell Manchin and Sinema that he’s done his best but compromise is evidently impossible. That’ll be Manchin’s cue to agree to reconciliation. But remember what he said a few days ago:

In theory, at some point, the two sides’ failure to compromise will convince Manchin that lefties were right to believe that Republicans would never agree to anything and therefore it’s only right to punish them by using reconciliation. (Which is itself a procedural can of worms thanks to last week’s ruling by the Senate parliamentarian.) But what if Manchin means what he says?

No reconciliation. The two sides just need to keep negotiating. However long it takes.

Suddenly it won’t just be voting-rights legislation that it’ll be in limbo. It’ll be the entire Democratic agenda, infrastructure included.

Capito is pissed off:

My half-baked cloak-and-dagger theory is that Biden tanked the negotiations deliberately, to put more pressure on Manchin at a moment when he’s already under tremendous pressure from the left to figure out a way to pass their agenda along partisan lines. The sooner he shows Manchin that the GOP won’t agree to anything, the sooner Manchin has to decide once and for all if he’s movable on doing things by a simple majority or if this is how it’s going to go for the rest of Biden’s presidency. Or, I suppose, there’s an intermediate position: Biden will force Manchin to twist Senate Republican arms in the interest of getting a deal and sparing him from appearing hopelessly naive to have believed that any compromise was possible. It’s Joe’s move now.