President Joe Biden spoiled a golden bipartisan moment this week, according to Senate Republicans, by insisting Congress pass another bill in addition to the infrastructure framework agreed to by a group of Democratic and Republican senators.
“Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lamented Thursday afternoon.
Biden on Thursday vowed not to sign any infrastructure bill into law unless Congress passed a separate multitrillion-dollar bill stuffed with many other Democratic priorities, including billions for child care and a yearslong extension of a new child allowance program set to start next month.
“I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting the rest of it,” Biden said.
While McConnell characterized Biden’s ultimatum as a head-spinning switcheroo, the White House plan for infrastructure has always consisted of two parts ― an “American Jobs Plan” and an “American Families Plan,” the latter of which Republicans stringently oppose.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the 10 Republicans who endorsed the bipartisan framework earlier this month, giving it added momentum, went further by calling Biden’s comments “extortion.”
“I don’t mind working with the other side for the common good, but I’m not going to be extorted by liberal Democrats or anyone else,” Graham tweeted Thursday. “So much for President Biden as the moderate deal-maker!”
As negotiations proceeded on a bipartisan infrastructure bill in recent weeks, it was not a secret that Democrats would use the budget reconciliation process to bypass Republicans and approve some version of the families plan with only 50 yes votes in the Senate. All that has happened is the likely process has come into focus, with Democratic leaders linking the bills more explicitly this week as progressives threatened to withhold support for the bipartisan bill without assurances that moderates like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would support the reconciliation bill.
McConnell and other Republicans have expressed interest in a bipartisan deal on infrastructure partly as a way to scuttle the rest of Biden’s agenda. By agreeing to a $1.2 trillion package focused on traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and waterways, which they support, they hope to make added spending on other progressive priorities unpalatable to Democratic moderates.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), another GOP senator who endorsed the bipartisan infrastructure framework, for example, is seeking assurances from Democratic moderates that if he votes for the bipartisan bill they won’t ultimately support a reconciliation package.
But Manchin on Thursday indicated his support for another bill, calling reconciliation “inevitable.” Progressive Democats, after all, have just as much power to sink the infrastructure bill as Manchin does to sink the reconciliation bill.
“There’s going to be a reconciliation bill, we just don’t know what size it’s going to be,” he told reporters.
McConnell’s actions, meanwhile, could determine the fate of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. He seemed to work against the same bipartisan group when they hammered out a coronavirus relief compromise in December. After Democratic leaders embraced the group’s $908 billion coronavirus relief package, McConnell introduced his own competing proposal and lambasted Democrats for “all-or-nothing tactics” as if they had not endorsed the compromise.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill will take weeks to turn into actual legislation, and it faces especially tricky twists and turns paired with the reconciliation bill. But Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) reminded reporters that many commentators had counted them out on the coronavirus relief bill.
“Don’t forget the 908 package in December, which you also said would never pass,” Warner said.
Still, with progressives making demands from the left, and Republicans now making their own demands on the right, enacting a bipartisan infrastructure package into law will require master legislating in the months ahead.