Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Short-Lived

A bizarre development looks to upend it less than 24 hours after it was announced.

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Thursday afternoon, when President Biden announced a bipartisan infrastructure deal, I wondered,

Does this presage more Republican cooperation in the future? Doubtful. If not, it’s unclear what “bipartisanship” does for the majority.

Do Democrats simply ram the rest of the package through on reconciliation? If so, then “bipartisanship” is just a short-lived talking point.

We already have the answer and it’s the latter.

WaPo (“GOP senators are furious over Biden pledge tying infrastructure bill to huge Democratic package“):

Congressional Republicans erupted on Friday after President Biden pledged to reject a bipartisan infrastructure deal unless Congress also approves a broader Democratic spending package.

While touting a major breakthrough on bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, Biden said Thursday that he would not sign the $973 billion measure unless lawmakers also sent him a separate “reconciliation” bill expected to include Democratic priorities such as child care, education funding and climate action.

“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said of the bipartisan deal. “It’s in tandem.”

Republicans said Friday that the White House’s stance came as a surprise to them and could unravel the entire bipartisan agreement. The sudden discord marked a major reversal from the day before, when Democrats and Republicans appeared outside the White House and boasted of a revived spirit of bipartisanship.

[…]

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who had endorsed the deal, tweeted on Friday: “No deal by extortion! It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed. … I can’t imagine any other Republican had that impression.”

“It completely violates the spirit of the deal. The Republicans involved in negotiations feel betrayed and made fools of for agreeing to a deal in which the Democrats will ultimately get everything they want,” said Brian Riedl, a former aide to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who helped lead the discussions. “Moderate Republicans had an understanding that they were scaling down the cost of the final deal, not simply transferring that cost to a second bill.”

POLITICO (“White House scrambles to manage fallout of Biden’s ‘tandem’ remarks“)

Joe Biden said the quiet part out loud and paid a price for it.

Reveling in his bipartisan win on infrastructure Thursday, the president declared that he would not sign the deal he’d just endorsed unless a separate bill including his other domestic priorities arrived on his desk, too. Whether deliberate or not, the comment set off a cascade of events in and out of the Oval Office that had aides putting out fires the next day and raised questions about the future of their prized $1 trillion bipartisan deal.

With Republicans threatening to abandon the deal, Steve Ricchetti, one of Biden’s lead negotiators, who a day earlier had been credited by the president for his efforts shepherding the deal, scrambled to contain the fallout on Capitol Hill. Both he and Louisa Terrell, the White House top congressional liaison, told the Senators involved in negotiations that Biden was enthusiastic about the deal and would soon hit the road to tout its benefits as well as the merits of bipartisanship.

While gaffes are a longstanding part of Biden’s repertoire, so is competence. In this case, the former seems to have won out.

Why go through all the machinations of pretending to put together a “bipartisan” compromise bill if the intention was to simply pass the rest of bill through reconciliation? Doing so is political hardball but it’s perfectly within the rules. Indeed, the Senate Parliamentarian has already ruled on the matter.

For that matter, even if all Biden wants is the illusion of bipartisan support, why not pass the smaller bill first, bask in its glow, and then pass the larger bill later? If he’s simply trying to appease the progressive wing of his party, why not simply reassure them privately?

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Partly it was saying the quiet part loud.

    Partly it was not springing a surprise large reconciliation bill on top of the bipartisan bill.

    And partly it was trying to square the circle.

    3
  2. Barry says:

    It was always a lie, James.

    3
  3. MarkedMan says:

    Blaming Biden for this is BS. It has been talked about for a couple of months that they would concede to Republican’s desire for a “hard” infrastructure bill, and use reconciliation for the “soft” part. Mitch’s sudden discovery that there is gambling on these premises is just a charade. He was never going to allow this to pass. The fact that there were only five Repubs signed on was all you needed to know. Someone on the Republican side was going to filibuster and then it would have lost. This is just the arepubs way to sucker a gullible media that it is the Dems fault.

    Five Senators when they needed ten. That tells the whole story right there.

    20
  4. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The fact that there were only five Repubs signed on was all you needed to know.

    And Biden knew this, of course.

    So why not use this as an opportunity to illustrate that “bipartisanship” is a hopeless pipe dream in order to put some pressure on Manchin and Sinema?

    Graham, by the way, is giving away how ridiculous the GOP position is:

    No deal by extortion! It was never suggested to me during these negotiations that President Biden was holding hostage the bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless a liberal reconciliation package was also passed

    In other words: “We will only compromise on this one thing if you won’t do anything else with the legislative majority you have.”

    Anyone who has two brain cells to rub together should recognize the ridiculousness of this demand.

    The only question that remains is: “Is our media learning?”

    I guess not.

    4
  5. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: This is my take on what happened. Biden got a mere five Senators to sign on. None represented Mitch. In fact, all were more or less rogues. Much to Mitch’s surprise, rather than admit defeat, the Biden team played it up as a major victory, thereby turning the story from, “Dems fail in bipartisan talks”, to “Dems succeed! But wait, Mitch reneges!” Mitch, seeing where this was going, takes offense at something, anything and says it is the reason it failed. Useful idiots in the press take the Repubs talking point as their own.

    12
  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    Sausage is still being made at the sausage factory. Same poop, different day.

    1
  7. drj says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Yup.

  8. Lounsbury says:

    Well for all the excuse making, the communication really is an own-goal. Such things happen but are regrettable – obviously keeping up pretence and then pivoting to push through would have been a rather more PR clever play.

    5
  9. Bob@Youngstown says:

    …. and Lucy is still snatching the ball. When will Charlie (the Dems) ever realize that they should aim to kick Lucy?

    2
  10. drj says:

    @Lounsbury:

    obviously keeping up pretence

    With only 5 GOP snators on board, that was going to end anyway. The only question is when: either, when it turns out, you don’t have the 60 votes after all, or when the GOPers pull the plug themselves.

    In the first case, the failure is on the Ds, in the second case perhaps not.

    More broadly, what Biden’s team has been doing is to try and redefine “bipartisan” as “some GOP support” rather than the ridiculous “10 GOP senators on board” (which was never, ever going to happen anyways).*

    Regarding messaging, he and his team did the best they could considering the circumstances.

    You are so blinded by your desire to see the naive lefties fuck up that you can’t even recognize the structural constraints the Democrats have to deal with.

    * You may not know (or conveniently forgot) that the 50 D senators already represent 40m more people than the 50 R senators. Imagine how skewed that ratio would be if another 10 Rs would have to be on board.

    7
  11. Bnut says:

    This is the perfect outcome for everyone involved. The GOP gets to say they were “bipartisan” (as if 5 people is an example of that) and then bitch again when the reconciliation pushes through. The Dems get to also claim bpership first and appease the base with however much they think is good enough later. Everyone on all sides knew this, nobody likes seeing behind the curtain. I would certainly be upset if I was a Republican voter, but I’m not so, so they can bite me.

    2
  12. JKB says:

    Mitt Romney punked….again

    It had been a few weeks since Mitt Romney had demonstrated what a loser he is.

    1
  13. drj says:

    @JKB:

    It had been a few weeks since Mitt Romney had demonstrated what a loser he is.

    You are a perfect illustration of the feeeblemindedness of your political tribe.

    As your comment shows, you are more concerned about owning the libs and the RINOs (i.e. the majority of the population) than about having decent roads and bridges that don’t unexpectedly collapse.

    I’m sure you are stupid enough to consider that an expression of patriotism.

    9
  14. Scott F. says:

    Why go through all the machinations of pretending to put together a “bipartisan” compromise bill if the intention was to simply pass the rest of bill through reconciliation?

    Because when one party has made acting in bad faith their entire operating model, ‘machinations’ is what the other party does to make that obvious.

    6
  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The repubs knew of the 2 track strategy all along. All this sound and fury signifies nothing.

    5
  16. Clif says:

    I think it’s just politics as usual, Joe’s handlers knew well in advance that they would use reconciliation as nobody across the aisle wants their hands on such lard. Dodging the reality that this is just riddled with pork/bribes is petty and cheap, and should be beneath such esteemed scholars in here. Trying to blame a few senators as being is charge of everything isn’t realistic- the one’s who abide by their leaders should be held accountable as well. Who in their right mind would want the Federal Gov’t. in charge of their daycare, or think that unions are going to make us a better country, or cow farts are destroying the atmosphere?

    1
  17. This all strikes me as a situation that cannot be evaluated until the end of this congress–i.e., what actually gets passed and how. The narrative of the moment is insufficient for us to be able to really judge, IMHO.

    7
  18. Gustopher says:

    Why go through all the machinations of pretending to put together a “bipartisan” compromise bill if the intention was to simply pass the rest of bill through reconciliation?

    Because it gives the Republicans a seat at the table for designing the parts that they agree with and how it will be paid for? Something that the Republicans should want, but are apparently willing to toss aside.

    The two track plan was being discussed in the media for weeks. It’s not a surprise.

    7
  19. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: @OzarkHillbilly: It would be one thing to pass a bipartisan bill and then pass a separate bill via reconciliation. But that’s not what Biden’s doing here. Rather, he’s refusing to sign the deal he touted on Thursday unless the other goes through first. That’s not what was negotiated.

    2
  20. wr says:

    @James Joyner: @James Joyner: “That’s not what was negotiated.”

    Wait — you think the Dems negotiated a deal under which they promised not to pass a separate bill that’s completely different from the one under negotiation? What would that have looked like? “We, the majority party, agree not to attempt to achieve any of our goals if the minority agrees to sign onto this bill?”

    Of course that’s ludicrous. And the Republicans have known about the reconciliation bill for weeks — many of the poorly written articles that describe their shock and betrayal at the Dems’ perfidy include quotes from them from weeks back talking about it.

    I suppose I can’t blame you for getting this so wrong when so many reporters desperate to type “Dems in disarray” again have framed the story this way. But you are definitely capable of deeper reading and deeper thinking than this post.

    9
  21. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t understand why you are saying that. They only had 55 votes. They needed 60. It was dead. I don’t understand where this narrative is coming from, this fantasy that there were other Repubs who were going to join but keep it secret.

    3
  22. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: James, that’s what the Dems had been saying they would for over a month. They didn’t go back on anything. And what does it matter? They didn’t have the votes. You are inventing “Biden screwed the pooch” narratives about a bill that was already dead.

    7
  23. James Joyner says:

    @wr: @MarkedMan: I don’t expect Dems to refuse to pass bills they have the votes to pass. But, first, if you’re going to do that, do it, don’t pretend you’re working for a bipartisan solution. Second, and more importantly, if the idea is to get buy-in for the most popular parts of the bill and get a show of unity for that, then pass that lickety-split and THEN do the reconciliation. Tying the two together is just bad faith.

    1
  24. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    A second reconciliation deal was needed to keep progressives from jumping ship. It also puts pressure on Manchin and particularly Sinema to vote for the recon bill. That Biden said the quiet part out loud can be chalked up to either Joe foot in mouth or they knew that there weren’t 10 R votes anyway.

    1
  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Tune in next time for another episode of It Doesn’t Matter Who You Vote For; The Dysfunction Is Built In.

    2
  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    Why go through all the machinations of pretending to put together a “bipartisan” compromise bill if the intention was to simply pass the rest of bill through reconciliation?

    The reconciliation bill was part of the deal from the beginning. You can go back to two weeks ago and find quotes from Republican Senators about how this is going to work.

    As usual, the Republican negotiation was bad faith from the start, and this is just the excuse of the day as to why they’re backing out of an agreement they never intended to go through with.

    And also as usual, Status Quo Joyner is buying the propaganda hook, line, and sinker.

    8
  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This all strikes me as a situation that cannot be evaluated until the end of this congress–i.e., what actually gets passed and how. The narrative of the moment is insufficient for us to be able to really judge, IMHO.

    Yeah, this. I cannot endorse this enough. There’s a massive amount of spin going on. The deal announced didn’t make sense in multiple dimensions, both because there were only 5 R Senators and because “do the rest via reconciliation” makes it make no sense to make a deal for Rs. Everyone in this game is posturing and taking bargaining positions. If there’s a non-reconciliation deal, it must be better for Democrats than what can be done via reconciliation.

    The voting rights bill is a different animal, since reconciliation isn’t a thing there. And so it will have different drama attached.

    1
  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    ” Tying the two together is just bad faith a reinforcement of Limbaugh’s old message that Liberals can’t be counted on for bipartisan negotiations. They always go back on their word.

    FTFY

    2
  29. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Your view of what is happening does not align with my view. Mitch, who was going to make sure this bill never passed, picked this issue to pretend to be outraged about. If it wasn’t this it would have been something else. He made sure it didn’t get the votes. We knew that it was dead when it was announced. It is five Republican votes short. The Republicans killed it. Trying to make this the Dems fault is, frankly, ridiculous.

    6
  30. MarkedMan says:

    James, you seem to sincerely believe that, absent Dem perfidy, this bill was going to pass. Who do you think are the five Republicans who were planning to vote for it, but keeping it secret? And why were they keeping it secret?

    6
  31. Tony W says:

    Why the Democrats continue to negotiate against themselves is beyond me.

    2
  32. gVOR08 says:

    How this is perceived depends on how the press play it. I see WAPO is blaming Biden’s statement that he won’t sign the bipartisan bill if he doesn’t get a reconciliation bill, but being up front that everyone knew it was a dual track thing from the beginning. FOX, to my surprise, has nothing. I thought they’d do a big ‘Biden reneges’ story, but I can’t find any mention of infrastructure bills on their web page.

  33. Moosebreath says:

    “No deal by extortion!”

    I can only imagine that Lindsay Graham lives in a world that the government shutdown of 2013 over a Republican attempt to force Obama to defund the ACA never happened.

    2
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Trying to make this the Dems fault is, frankly, ridiculous.

    And yet, that message will resonate with approximately 45-50% of the population, including the “pox on both their houses/both sides” cohort. That cohort may raise the resonation above 50% in fact.

    3
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tony W: I suspect that the reason is that the alternative is not passing important legislation at all. Sure, we’ll still get naturally bipartisan stuff like we do now, but anything life changing is probably off the table. Possibly forever.

    2
  36. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “Tying the two together is just bad faith.”

    So you’re saying that it IS in bad faith to explain exactly what they’re going to do before a deal is struck, while it wouldn’t be in bad faith to get the bipartisan deal with the Republicans while secretly negotiating among themselves for the reconciliation bill at the same time?

    Maybe on Bizarro World.

    Honestly, I understand why Lindsey Graham is complaining about this — the Republicans planned to use an agreement on a small bipartisan deal to get the Democrats fighting among themselves over the reconciliation deal. The Dems refused to be manipulated, so the Republicans are pissed.

    But I can’t see your point of view at all.

    The Democrats said flat out — we are offering you a chance to participate in a bipartisan infrastructure deal so that you can vote for things this country needs and your voters want. Then we will hold a separate vote without you on things you would never vote for.

    The Republicans response is ludicrous. It comes down to “how dare you offer us a chance to participate in government when you will then do things we don’t like afterwards.”

    5
  37. wr says:

    @Tony W: “Why the Democrats continue to negotiate against themselves is beyond me.”

    Because Joe Manchin insists on it, and without him and Synema they can’t pass anything.

    4
  38. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Why go through all the machinations of pretending to put together a “bipartisan” compromise bill if the intention was to simply pass the rest of bill through reconciliation?

    “Because Fuck’em–that’s why? ~Dave Chapelle
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxbpgC3UgiY

  39. MarkedMan says:

    @wr:

    The Democrats said flat out — we are offering you a chance to participate in a bipartisan infrastructure deal so that you can vote for things this country needs and your voters want. Then we will hold a separate vote without you on things you would never vote for.

    Hear, hear. This is exactly what happened. And all put five Republicans turned that deal down. James is being ludicrously generous in interpreting the Republican reaction.

    2
  40. James Joyner says:

    @wr: @MarkedMan:

    The Democrats said flat out — we are offering you a chance to participate in a bipartisan infrastructure deal so that you can vote for things this country needs and your voters want. Then we will hold a separate vote without you on things you would never vote for.

    But that’s not what Biden said yesterday. Rather, he’s going to hold the “bipartisan infrastructure deal” hostage to “things you would never vote for.” That’s bad faith negotiation.

    I’m not arguing that this is worse than, or even comparable to, some of the worse things McConnell and company have done because they had the votes. I’m just arguing it’s not bipartisanship or on brand for Biden.

    2
  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Edward-Isaac Dovere
    @IsaacDovere

    Who could have predicted Biden on infrastructure?

    McConnell 6/15: “we are anticipating at some point getting a reconciliation bill.I guess what we will find out soon is whether there’s an additional bipartisan effort to address the subject that a lot of us would like to address”

    Or Roy Blunt in April: “My advice to the White House has been, take that bipartisan win, do this in a more traditional infrastructure way, and then if you want to force the rest of the package on Republicans in the Congress and the country, you can certainly do that.”

    Or Rob Portman: “look, I’m not suggesting Democrats aren’t going to try by reconciliation to do the big tax increases and big spending they’d like to do outside of this, I’m sure they will. But in the meantime, let’s go ahead and get this done.”

    Or Bill Cassidy, yesterday: “I think we’ve made progress even if Majority Leader Schumer decides to proceed with another reconciliation bill.”

    Don’t let the Repubs pull the performative art bullshit over your eyes. They knew it was coming.

    9
  42. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Wow! It’s almost as if they entered into the bipartisan part of the negotiation knowing that they weren’t even going to support what they agreed that they wanted.

    This is my shocked face 😐

    3
  43. Ken_L says:

    From National Review:

    A big reason Republicans had entered into bipartisan negotiations with moderate Democrats in the first place was that a bipartisan deal on “core infrastructure” would reduce pressure on moderate Democrats to sign onto Bernie Sanders’s wish list.

    And Republicans thought Democrats would fall for that? Biden said what he did to stop his party torpedoing the ‘bipartisan deal’. Democrats have been quite open about their intentions; if senators like Lindsey Graham don’t keep up with the news, that’s their problem.

    3
  44. Ken_L says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told CNBC on Friday morning that he had assumed from the start that Democrats would aim for a reconciliation package alongside the bipartisan bill.

    “Democrats are going to move forward with a broad reconciliation bill with a lot of tax increases, regardless,” he said.

    The idea Democrats were negotiating in bad faith is not consistent with the facts.

    4
  45. @MarkedMan: I am reacting to media narrative: “it’s a compromise!” “Oh, no! It’s dead” “Reconcilliation!” “Something, something conclusion.”

    I am being extremely simplistic in a way: it ain’t over ’til it’s over and any story that suggests a definitive conclusion is wrong.

  46. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Don’t let the Repubs pull the performative art bullshit over your eyes. They knew it was coming.

    For like the 75th time, the issue isn’t that a separate bill is coming but that Biden declared the day after announcing it that he would only sign it if the reconciliation bill came in first. He has subsequently issued a “Never mind.”