The bipartisan "everything is infrastructure" push

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

You can tell how quickly the ground is shifting in terms of “infrastructure week” by the evolution of this headline from the Associated Press. When I first saw the article go up last night, it read “Impatient Democrats prepare to go-it-alone on infrastructure.” But at some point during the night, it was changed to read, “Bipartisan infrastructure group swells to 21 senators.” While most of the media’s attention was focused on Joe Biden’s embarrassing summit with Vladimir Putin, senators from both parties were rushing around in the basement of the Capitol Building, scrambling to see if there was some way to push a bipartisan infrastructure bill over the finish line. But at the same time as the bipartisan group was meeting, Chuck Schumer was sitting down with a group of progressive members to hammer out the details of how they might shove Biden’s original bill through with no GOP support. So is any of this rolling circus a serious effort to pass something or is it all a dog and pony show?

A bipartisan senators’ group working on a $1 trillion infrastructure compromise more than doubled in size to 21 members Wednesday, a key threshold that gives momentum to their effort as President Joe Biden returns from overseas at a pivotal time for his big legislative priority.

Biden told reporters he had yet to see the emerging proposal from the group but remained hopeful a bipartisan agreement could be reached, despite weeks of on-again, off-again talks over his more robust $1.7 billion American Jobs Plan.

“I’m still hoping we can put together the two bookends here,” Biden said as he prepared to depart Geneva after attending a summit of European leaders.

You have to do a bit of digging to find the names of the Republicans who are supposedly getting ready to work with the Democrats to pass a scaled-back infrastructure bill. Most of the names won’t surprise you since the majority of them are the ones that always seem to wind up in cahoots with the Democrats. Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and Thom Tillis are on the list of the usual suspects. A bit more surprising to see are Richard Burr, Jerry Moran, Rob portman, Mike Rounds, and Todd Young. That gives them eleven Republican votes which would normally be more than enough to make it to a floor vote.

But I say “usually” here for a reason. The proposal that the bipartisan group is hammering out would come in with a price tag of roughly one trillion dollars. But it would also leave out some of the Democratic wishlist items that are stuffed into the original bill that Joe Biden proposed. Usually, the Democrats only have to deal with a fight to get a few Republicans on board, but in this case, it may be their own caucus that sinks this effort. Demonstrating once again that they would rather starve than settle for half a loaf, the “squad” on the House side and other progressives in the Senate are balking at the idea of any compromise whatsoever. If they stick to their “my way or the highway” attitude, the bipartisan deal could go down in flames.

So what happens then? Assuming that King Joseph of West Virginia sticks to his repeated assertions that he won’t support a party-line infrastructure vote and will continue to reject nixing the filibuster, this could turn out to be a complete wipeout for Biden and the Senate Democrats. The GOP will be able to come away saying they made an honest effort to push through a bill that could be passed and Team Schumer will be left holding the bag if no infrastructure bill makes it onto the books.

Joe Manchin and Angus King are among the ten Democrats who have been taking part in the bipartisan talks. They are also the ones most likely to kill any sort of go-it-alone strategy. This is going to wind up being a test of how much influence they truly have and whether or not the Democratic caucus has drifted so far to the left that the Senate might as well just cancel the rest of the session.