Will the House GOP rescue Biden and Pelosi on the bipartisan infrastructure bill? Update: Vote postponed until next week?

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Seems highly unlikely but the math here caught my interest.

Would Pelosi dare put a bill on the floor, risking the humiliation of defeat, knowing that she was depending upon Republican votes for passage?

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Normally I’d say “no way” but minute by minute we get closer to Election Day in Virginia.

I’ll repeat the point I made in the last post, that there *is* an argument for Republicans to help drag this bill over the finish line. And not just on the policy merits, because they want credit for the legislation to be bipartisan. Right now, by withholding votes from Pelosi, the GOP is strengthening the hand of … progressives. So long as there are no Republican votes in the House for the roads-and-bridges bill, Pelosi needs to find 218 entirely within her own caucus. That means placating AOC and the Squad and Pramila Jayapal, fattening up the reconciliation bill to keep them happy.

The moment Pelosi can do 218 on the roads-and-bridges bill without lefties, the left’s leverage collapses. If it’s true that Joe Manchin (and maybe Kyrsten Sinema) primarily cares about the roads-and-bridges bill and is leery of passing a huge reconciliation package amid rising inflation, the best thing Republicans could do to give him the courage to walk away is to help pass the bill he cares about. Once that’s on Biden’s desk, Manchin can dictate his terms on reconciliation. Or just end the process entirely, declaring it irresponsible at an economic moment like this.

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Of course, he can do that anyway. It’s (almost) unthinkable that lefties would embargo the bipartisan bill for the next year if he walked away from reconciliation knowing that the party needs some sort of legislative win before the midterms. And it’s also almost unthinkable that Pelosi would stab progressives in the back by passing a bill with Republican help knowing that that would destroy the left’s leverage. Progs would be aflame with anger. She’ll never do it.

…unless she thinks McAuliffe’s a goner in Virginia if they don’t pass the bipartisan bill before Tuesday, sparking chaos in the caucus afterward. In which case, hey!

There hasn’t been much hard news on negotiations over the past few hours but Dems do sound a little more kumbaya than they did this morning. Getting closer to a deal?

Interestingly, Manchin has been on the same page with progressives in a few respects today too. For months House lefties have been insisting that they need legislative language for reconciliation before anything can happen, not just an informal “framework.” Suddenly Manchin seems to agree:

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He’s also said for weeks that his number for reconciliation is $1.5 trillion. The outline Biden announced this morning was $1.75 trillion, however. Does that mean it’s a nonstarter for Manchin? Nope — he told CNN that he negotiated the $1.75 trillion figure, which means he’s come up:

What Manchin will and won’t tolerate in the legislation seems to change by the day and not just substantively. He’s erratic procedurally too, notes Charles Cooke. All this year he’s resisted demands to get rid of the filibuster by insisting that the Senate must operate in an orderly way, with input from the minority. Why then is he participating in a slapdash simple-majority reconciliation process in which transformational legislation is being written on the fly, up against a political deadline?

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In the same piece in the Journal, Manchin suggested that “establishing an artificial $3.5 trillion spending number and then reverse-engineering the partisan social priorities that should be funded isn’t how you make good policy.” But this is exactly how he himself is proceeding, albeit with a smaller “artificial number” in play. Earlier in the summer, Manchin cosigned a memorandum of understanding with Chuck Schumer in which the very first line reads, “Topline: $1.5 Trillion,” and, since then, he has been “reverse-engineering” the process to fit into it. Every day, with Senator Manchin’s help, the Democrats throw spaghetti at the wall in a desperate attempt to do something — anything! — that can get 50 votes, and, rather than explain that this is a horrible way to make law, Manchin acquiesces. Why?

At some level, Manchin seems to understand that there is no need for a bill at all and that the mad dash we’re currently watching is absurd. He told Bernie Sanders last week that he’d be happy with spending “zero”; he frequently conveys to journalists that the bill is going to “take time”; he has on more than one occasion suggested a six-month-long “strategic pause”; and he has written bluntly that “while some have suggested this reconciliation legislation must be passed now, I believe that making budgetary decisions under artificial political deadlines never leads to good policy or sound decisions.” In practice, though, he seems quite happy to be rushed along by his caucus. Yesterday, Manchin said that the Democrats could “absolutely” come to a deal by . . . well, today — even though, as has been widely noted, the Democratic Party is not only unable to agree on anything much at all, but has a pair of sticking-point senators whose red lines seem to be mutually exclusive. This afternoon, he backtracked, explaining that his party is “not going to do everything today” before Joe Biden leaves for Rome. Which is true, of course, but which obfuscates the bigger question: Why is he trying to?

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If Manchin means it when he says he’s worried about inflation, why doesn’t an eye-popping poll like this give him pause about spending another mountain of money?

Economic confidence is approaching the depths of anxiety reached after COVID shut down the entire country last spring. Americans are worried about rising prices and disappearing goods and yet the most famous centrist in the Senate, the guy who’s supposed to check the ideologues in his party by reorienting them towards what the average joe is truly worried about, has come *up* from his original price tag on reconciliation. He’s even all but promising progressives that a reconciliation bill will eventually pass:

Whether the House GOP should help pass the bipartisan bill basically boils down to whether you think there’s any chance Manchin might walk away from reconciliation, or at least negotiate Biden down from $1.75 trillion. If the answer’s no then Republicans might as well withhold their votes. Democrats will eventually pass both bills and the GOP can take some credit for the roads-and-bridges bill by dint of the 19 Republicans in the Senate who supported it. But if you think the answer’s yes then pushing the roads-and-bridges bill through gives Manchin every bit of cover he could hope to have to quit reconciliation. The bill he cares about will have passed. The left will have no remaining leverage over him, insofar as they have any at the moment. What to do?

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Update: Hooooooo boy. Does this finish off McAuliffe in Virginia? No infrastructure bill before Election Day?

I assume negotiations will proceed intensely this weekend in hopes of maybe passing the bipartisan bill on Monday to give McAuliffe at least one day to promote a big victory on the trail and get Democrats motivated to vote. What he wanted was several days to crow about the bill, though, to give time for low-information Dems to hear about the news and maybe take an interest in voting. He’s in trouble.

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David Strom 2:40 PM | February 20, 2024
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