House Dem: Schumer should walk out on bipartisan infrastructure talks

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Makes sense. To the extent any bipartisan consensus exists on an infrastructure plan, it’s that each side thinks it shouldn’t negotiate with the other. Republicans looking at the recent inflation data have grown even more skeptical even about the price tag on their own proposal, while Democrats like Pete DeFazio want to spend even more to jam in as many hobby-horse agenda items as possible.

With all that said, can Chuck Schumer find a middle ground? Does he want to?

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who leads the House transportation committee, trashed the bipartisan GOP-negotiated measure in a fiery call with other Democrats, according to three sources on the call.

The “whole thing falling apart is probably the best thing,” DeFazio said on the call of the Senate talks, which have President Joe Biden’s endorsement..

DeFazio’s frustrations were echoed by several other members on the call. One lawmaker, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) called the current process “bullshit,” and some vowed to work against the Senate’s bipartisan effort.

“I said the whole process seemed like [bullshit],” Carbajal told POLITICO in a brief interview afterward. “A lot of work has gone into this. There’s been a bipartisan effort to really align everything together, and you know it’s just very frustrating and disappointing when so much work goes into this … It is just annoying, to say the least.”

That might be annoying, but Politico reports that what has really frustrated them is getting left out of the talks:

The comments reflect weeks of simmering tensions in the House, where some senior Democrats say they’ve largely been left out of Biden’s talks with the GOP.

Yes, welcome to the House of Representatives, where bills get passed without negotiation and then die in the Senate. Had Democratic leadership in the lower chamber taken this effort seriously, they would have engaged Republicans in the House to help write the bill, which would have made Schumer’s job easier by creating bipartisan leverage to push it through. Instead, Nancy Pelosi and her team played performative politics, and now DeFazio’s unhappy that no one’s taking their advice in talks with Republicans. Go figure.

One has to wonder just how serious Schumer is about this project anyway. Yesterday, he scheduled a cloture vote on the bill, even though no bill exists yet — or even a preliminary agreement on one. That set off red flags among Senate Republicans, even those attempting to hash out an agreement on infrastructure spending. Susan Collins, for example, isn’t sure what the rush is:

In recent days, the GOP chorus against Schumer’s plan has reached a crescendo, arguing that he is rushing the process and jeopardizing a potential final product, with top Republicans and negotiators saying that the bill is in no position to reach the floor.

“There’s no bill. You can’t expect that many Republicans to move forward on a pretty vague concept,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership (pictured below). “It’s pretty much up to the majority leader. If he wants to kill the bipartisan bill, insisting on a vote before there’s a bill is a certain way to kill the bipartisan discussion” (Politico).

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told The Hill that there simply isn’t enough time to land the infrastructure plane ahead of Wednesday. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a key negotiator, added that he will not vote to proceed if no accord is reached.

Schumer, for his part, argues that the plan holds little risk for Republicans:

The majority leader laid out a two-punch strategy on the Senate floor on Monday night. First, he committed to holding a procedural vote Wednesday on infrastructure, but he left it open on what that bill would actually be.

Think of it this way: The vote is just on a shell amendment

On Thursday, Schumer will fill in what that shell is.

If the bipartisan bill is ready, Schumer said that he will fill the shell.

If that bipartisan bill is not ready, the plan is to fill the shell with transportation and water infrastructure bills that already had bipartisan support and give the bipartisan group more time.

Uh … suuuure, and the check is in the mail, too. Once Republicans vote to open debate on the bill, they do have another cloture vote option to filibuster it if Schumer pulls a switcheroo and fills the shell with DeFazio’s bill instead. At that point, though, they will be playing defense and having to use the amendment process to kill off the components, setting off pitched battles in the Senate.

CNN notes that “Schumer can’t wait forever for a bill,” but it’s only been six months into this new session of Congress. Infrastructure may or may not be a critical area for Congress to fund separately from all of the other budgetary funding, but it’s not an emergency. Wednesday is nothing more than an arbitrary deadline — which can be useful in focusing on objectives, but not when it requires Republicans to essentially vote for a pig in a poke.

Trust Me is not a plan that Senate Republicans will buy from Schumer. It seems more likely to kill the process than incentivize it, especially with trust across the aisle at all-time lows and getting ever lower. DeFazio may well get exactly what he wants, either by Schumer’s design or by default.