Did the 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill help or hurt Democrats?

Did the 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill help or hurt Democrats?
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Righty populists are irate this morning, not so much because they oppose the bill on the merits but because the 13 defectors committed the cardinal sin of 21st-century American politics. They helped the other team to a major political win.

I’m sure Katko can be successfully primaried but he represents a D+2 district. (For the moment. Redistricting is in motion.) Replace him with a MAGA candidate and it’s less likely that that seat stays red.

Anyway, any analysis of whether the 13 who voted yes committed a mortal or just a venial sin should start with this question: Was the bipartisan infrastructure bill going to pass no matter what? To which the answer is of course it was. Jazz is entirely right when he says “there was simply no way that [Democrats] were going to allow their party to march into 2022 with absolutely nothing to show for all of their efforts.” Whether it would have passed last night without Republican votes is an open question but whether it would have passed eventually — and almost certainly soon — isn’t. Which is why, as much as I share Phil Klein’s angst over more spending, there was no outcome here in which that spending doesn’t happen, with or without Republicans on board.

The only outcomes on the table were the bill passing exclusively with Democratic votes or the bill passing in a bipartisan way. And since it’s popular with voters, there’s a strong case politically to be made that the House GOP should have tried to take partial credit for it, whatever its flaws. That’s not to say that bad but popular bills should always earn bipartisan support when passage is inevitable. But inevitability does factor into the calculus.

I agree with Liam Donovan:

Manchin has staked his defense of the filibuster on the idea that bipartisanship is still possible. He was vindicated on that when the roads-and-bridges bill passed the Senate with 19 Republican votes. But if it had gone down in the House due to Republicans voting no a party line, his reasoning would have taken a hit. Instead he’s vindicated again this morning, further aligning him with the GOP.

Donovan’s also right that the bill might have passed last night even if all Republicans had voted no. Six members of the Squad opposed it; if no Republicans had voted yes those six votes would have been enough to kill it. That’s why righties are furious with the 13 defectors this morning, because they snatched Democratic victory from the jaws of defeat — supposedly. But would the Squad have voted no if there were no Republican yes votes to bail them out? At least one member was watching the count closely before casting her “no” vote:

The bill probably would have passed with or without Republican help. All the GOP votes really accomplished for Democrats was giving AOC and her pals the opportunity to look ideologically pure by voting no instead of having to hold their noses and vote yes.

And meanwhile, by voting the way they did, they may have strengthened Manchin’s hand in driving a hard bargain on reconciliation. Now that the bill he really cares about has passed, he’s free to dictate his terms to progressives on Build Back Better. One Republican who voted yes made that point afterward:

“I weakened their [progressives’] hand. They have no leverage now,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), who had shaped a GOP-friendly spin on her vote by the time she exited the chamber: “I voted against AOC and the squad tonight.”

Malliotakis told Axios that progressives will no longer be able to hold the bill hostage and predicted Build Back Better will be “drastically weakened” in the Senate or “die altogether” as a result of the infrastructure bill passing.

The left never had any leverage over Manchin. In the end the bipartisan bill would have passed one way or another and any reconciliation bill would have needed to be to his liking. But it’s possible that if progressives had kept the bipartisan bill bottled up in the House, the avalanche of bad press that followed about Democrats not being able to govern might have put pressure on him to make some concessions on Build Back Better in the hopes of getting something passed sooner rather than later.

Now he doesn’t have to concede anything. The roads-and-bridges bill is through; Biden and the party have their big win. Manchin can proceed with reconciliation — or not — at his leisure. To the extent that he wasn’t fully in control of the process before, he is now thanks to the 13 GOPers who voted yes. Maybe he’ll celebrate by walking over to the other chamber and tearing up a copy of the House version of BBB right in front of the Squad once it passes.

All along Republican leaders have argued that the bipartisan bill should be blocked because it was linked to the reconciliation package and therefore to vote for one is to vote for the other. But that argument derailed this week when progressives first gave up on trying to reach a deal with the Senate on BBB and then gave up on trying to reach a deal with their own centrist Democratic colleagues to pass a bill through the House. The two bills are now on completely separate tracks: The bipartisan bill is headed to Biden’s desk and the House version of reconciliation is headed to the Senate’s toilet.

At the end of the day, though, you don’t need elaborate strategic reasons to understand why some Republicans defected. Don Bacon, one of the 13 GOP yes votes, explained to Axios:

A damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choice is what Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Axios he faced, so he said he did what felt right. “You vote one way, maybe it hurts in the primary. You vote the other way… in my district, it’d hurt me in the general.”…

While “certain elements of our party did not like it,” he said, the bill is popular among his constituents, with broad support from farmers, unions and businesses — with internal polls showing two-thirds support or higher in his district.

His constituents liked the bill. That’s not an unimpeachable reason to vote yes on legislation, but in a democracy it’s not a bad one. I hope he’s not primaried for believing that passing major legislation which his voters support is more important than owning the libs.

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 22, 2023