Lindsey Graham: I'm fine with the bipartisan infrastructure bill again now that Biden's back to pretending it's not linked to the reconciliation bill

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Either Graham is an idiot or he thinks his constituents are idiots.

I don’t think Graham is an idiot.

The saga of the “linked” bills began with Pelosi reassuring progressives by insisting that the House wouldn’t enact the Senate’s bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill unless the Senate passed a “human infrastructure” bill larded up with social-welfare spending as well. Lefties are afraid that if they do the bipartisan bill first, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema will get cold feet about the price tag on the reconciliation bill and decide not to take it up. The solution is to hold the bipartisan bill hostage in the House: If Manchin and Sinema want it to pass, they need to follow through on reconciliation. If they decline, Pelosi and AOC will shoot the bipartisan bill right before their eyes.

The process took a turn, though, when Joe Biden joined Pelosi in the hostage-taking. I won’t sign the bipartisan bill unless it comes packaged with a reconciliation bill, he said — which he wasn’t supposed to do. Biden’s supposed to be the kindly old “good cop” in this charade who’s all for bipartisanship and happy to sign whatever can get to his desk. Pelosi’s supposed to be the progressive “bad cop” who’s taking hostages. Senate Republicans were willing to play along with the good cop/bad cop routine knowing full well that Dems were on track to pass both bills and rack up trillions more in new spending. But they were not willing to play along with a bad cop/bad cop routine in which Biden made them look like schmucks by threatening to veto the bipartisan bill they’re working on if that’s the only thing that passes.

No one was angrier about it than Lindsey Graham.

“If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Graham said [of Biden’s veto threat]. “I’m not doing that. That’s extortion! I’m not going to do that. The Dems are being told you can’t get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game.”

Graham said the five Republicans negotiating the deal never told him about the linkage strategy and he does not believe that they were aware of it. “Most Republicans could not have known that,” he said. “There’s no way. You look like a f***ing idiot now.” He added, “I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”

He had a point. It was indeed extortion by Pelosi — and Biden — to tell Manchin and Sinema that it’s both bills or bust as far as they’re concerned. But even if Biden hadn’t made any explicit veto threat, he’d still be complicit in the extortion. The point of good cop/bad cop is that the two cops are working in concert to make the suspect capitulate. One uses pressure, the other uses charm, but they’re united in a common goal. It shouldn’t matter what Biden is saying publicly. So long as Pelosi is still insisting on both bills or bust, the House is attempting to extort the Senate with Biden’s tacit approval.

So why is it that Graham is suddenly back on Team Bipartisanship just because Biden walked back his veto threat last weekend? Nothing has changed about the dynamics. Sleepy Joe is just being slightly more oblique about the Democratic strategy. Manchin and Sinema are still being extorted. Yet Graham is now fine with it, apparently: “LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.) is now back on board after telling us he’d have to be a ‘f***ing idiot’ to support a deal that Biden threatened to veto. Once Biden clarified that there was no veto threat, Graham returned to the table. ‘I think it had the intended effect,’ he told us Thursday evening.”

Philip Klein draws the obvious conclusion. If only a f***ing idiot would let themselves be extorted and the extortion is still going on in this case then, by definition, Graham is an idiot. (Or, rather, he thinks his constituents are idiots.) He’s also an idiot strategically if he thinks making a deal with Manchin and Sinema on infrastructure might shore up their support for the filibuster or convince them to block the “human infrastructure” reconciliation bill. There’s zero reason to think either of those things will happen, Klein notes:

Manchin and Sinema had already dug themselves deeply into the position of blowing up the filibuster before the bipartisan infrastructure deal. And they did so because of their own political considerations. Were the the filibuster eliminated, Democrats would move full speed ahead with the liberal agenda, and Manchin and Sinema would face tougher votes, pulling them between the demands of their party and their constituents. As long as the filibuster is in place, they are spared from the votes, and can use the procedural roadblock to avoid taking positions on the substance of various issues.

Furthermore, there is no evidence that the bipartisan framework has made Manchin more likely to block the reconciliation package. If anything, it does the opposite. Rather than giving Manchin cover to oppose the reconciliation package, the bipartisan deal seems to have given Manchin cover to support it because it makes the entire process appear to be more bipartisan. Since the bipartisan deal was announced, Manchin has said he supports a Democrats-only package.

Yep, the bipartisan deal gives Manchin cover to pursue the hyperpartisan reconciliation process — and it also gives him cover to jack up total spending. As Rich Lowry pointed out a few days ago, so long as Dems are working on two bills Manchin can compartmentalize the price tag of each. A trillion bucks for roads and bridges, say, plus another $2 trillion for “human infrastructure.” If the GOP walks away from the bipartisan bill and forces Dems to roll everything into reconciliation, suddenly Manchin’s looking at a $3 trillion Democrat-only blockbuster. That’s more likely to produce sticker shock in deep red West Virginia. In other words, Republicans might actually succeed in reducing spending in this case by not agreeing to a deal than by agreeing to it.

So why do they want to agree to one? All I can think is that there must be internal polling showing that infrastructure is popular and that the GOP might pay a price next November if they can’t take some credit for it. That’s the only conceivable reason they would strain so hard to look the other way at the game Biden’s playing with them.