Infrastructure Negotiations Stall

A bipartisan compromise appears unlikely.

Via WaPo: Infrastructure talks hit a wall as Senate GOP and White House exchange blame.

The prospects for a bipartisan infrastructure deal dimmed even further Monday, as Senate Republicans alleged that the White House had agreed to narrow the scope of its $2.2 trillion plan — only to reverse course days later.

Apart from genuine interest in the legislation itself, this story struck me for several reasons.

First, unlike some of the more dramatic (and very real) concerns about the health of our democracy, this story could have been written about any number of interactions between the parties over the years. It is mundane in its own way.

Consider: the Reps want to cut the amount of spending, limit the bill’s scope, and don’t want to increase taxes to pay for it. Meanwhile, Dems want to spend more on the package, see its scope as broader, and think taxes should be raised to pay for it.

And, both sides are trying to play the refs (i.e., the voting public) in the press.

It is all so blissfully normal.

Second, and apropos to more recent discussions on this site, the main reason the Republicans have leverage is more about Senate rules than voting strength. While there is the possibility that the bill could be moved through the Senate via the reconciliation process (thus avoiding a filibuster), the fact remains that getting the bill through the Senate will require maneuverings through Senate rules rather than simply a matter of a straightforward vote of the chamber as it is likely that even if reconciliation is used, there will have to be substantial changes to the current version of the proposal (see, for example, this Politico piece from last month: Biden’s infrastructure plan heads for the Senate shredder).

This is yet another example of how even when a party wins “control” (scare quotes intended) of all three branches of the federal government that is not able to govern without overcoming a minority-veto in the Senate.

This is also a good time to note, yet again, that the 50 votes the Republicans have represents far fewer people than the 50 who are represented by the Democrats.

In terms of the negotiations, it is striking to me that the opening Biden was $2.2 trillion, and the Biden administration indicated it might be willing to cut out up to $500 trillion.

Meanwhile, the GOP offer is summarized as follows:

Republicans, for their part, put forward an infrastructure counteroffer of their own last week that frustrated Democrats — and barely budged from the GOP’s initial bargaining position. Capito had originally proposed $568 billion, much of which entailed money that Congress already planned to spend. She revised the overall price tag to roughly $800 billion, but the new number reflected only a slight change, as the GOP agreed to heightened infrastructure spending over eight years instead of five.

$2.2 trillion going down to ~$1.7 is quite a ways from $800 billion up from $568.

But, of course, I take all of these negotiations in the press to be grain-of-salt worthy.

My main take-away from all of this is the amount of power the minority party has in the Senate, which is especially true when the minority party is the Republicans (whose party has not actually represented a majority of citizens in the Senate this century,* even when it has controlled the chamber).


*Off the top of my head, I am not sure when the last time there was a confluence of Republican control with Senate Republicans also representing a majority of the population–I just know it has not been the case in the 21st Century).

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    If Schumer put the Republican plan up for a vote as is, would 10 Republican senators actually vote for it? Calling it an offer seems overly generous since there’s no evidence it was made in good faith rather than as a stalling tactic.

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  2. KM says:

    Pennywise and pound-foolish. Here’s the thing – the Repubs can’t keep saying “we need to cut the costs” because the cost for repairs only go UP the longer you wait. The longer the debate takes, the more damage gets incurred and the bill grows no matter how much you want to whine about fiscal responsibility. You can make a small repair on a bridge at a million or you can rebuild it when it collapses at $900 million plus all the lawsuit payouts -one of the above is going to happen.

    An example most folk can grasp of ever increasing pricing for infracturse would be Disney World’s monorail system. Built back in the day to only go to the hotel closest to the Magic Kingdom and a spur to EPCOT, there was talk of expanding it to help move guest around park for decades. However the cost was about a million a mile back in the 80’s, was deemed too expensive to the ever-expanding property and a fleet of buses was employed. It got so bad in the pre-pandemic days they were bumping up against legal limits of the amount of buses they could put on the road due to sheer congestion. They ended up putting up a ski-lift system with limited reach at a cost of $33m ($12 per mile) in 2020 and it’s already infamous for it’s breakdowns. Monorail lines would be likely be triple that, making the initial balking of the build price seem utterly foolish. It’s a regularly asked question by guests as to why the monorail only goes so far and what Disney were thinking. Pennywise and pound-foolish…..

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    “…the Reps want to cut the amount of spending, limit the bill’s scope, and don’t want to increase taxes to pay for it.”
    This is the both-siderism framing that drives me insane.
    REPUBLICANS HAVE NO FUQING INTENTION OF DOING ANYTHING. EVER.
    To type anything else is BS. For how long did they have full control of Government? And Infrastructure week became a running joke.
    The only 4 policies Republicans are interested in are: zero tax rates, control of women’s uteruses, unfettered gun proliferation, and eliminating people of color from the voter rolls.
    Let’s stop pretending Republicans have any interest in Governance – and stop writing nonsense that makes it appear as though they do.

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  4. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    This is the both-siderism framing that drives me insane.

    You are allowed to let it drive you insane, to be sure. Whether you ought to is its own issue.

    I reject that it is bothsiderism (a critique I take seriously and a problem that I think is real and that I try to avoid).

    Further, did you miss the part wherein I stated “I take all of these negotiations in the press to be grain-of-salt worthy”?

    Let’s stop pretending Republicans have any interest in Governance – and stop writing nonsense that makes it appear as though they do.

    Sigh.

    I am going to admit to more than a bit of annoyance at your comment (which is fair for me to do, I think, given that you are essentially yelling at me in it).

    As a regular reader, you know full well my position that the GOP is uninterested in governing.

    But, beyond that, I note in the post that the main problem here is the disproportionate power that the Reps have in the Senate–power that forces the negotiations in the first place and likely could derail legislation.

    Further, the implication is clear that their negotiation point is ridiculously low and that their main leverage is a combination of the design of the Senate and the filibuster rules.

    Is the only way to make this clearer to write like my hair is on fire about demonspawn?

    You may have noticed, that’s not my style nor approach.

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  5. @Daryl and his brother Darryl: It is fundamentally true that there are negotiations going on. That each side does have a position. And that, as the subtitle of the post notes, a bipartisan compromise is unlikely.

    It is further true that the structure of the Senate puts the whole thing in jeopardy.

    But, yes, let’s yell at the author, who has clear priors on the overall subject because he didn’t write the post the way you wanted it written.

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  6. Scott F. says:

    This is also a good time to note, yet again, that the 50 votes the Republicans have represents far fewer people than the 50 who are represented by the Democrats.

    This is also a good time to note that, in the case of infrastructure at least, what the Democrats are proposing in this package – big spending on infrastructure and higher taxes on incomes over $400,000 – is broadly popular, including with a significant number of Republicans. The minority rule in this case is even more egregious than usual.

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  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I get your point, and apologize for my frustration. Truly.
    But…Republicans are always given this shrugging nod towards…

    ” It is fundamentally true that there are negotiations going on.”

    And then, they will again, the very next time they pull the same Lucy Van Pelt with a football maneuver.

    Well, the Republicans do have a position…

    Rinse – repeat.
    And as long as it continues, so will they.
    When every story starts to acknowledge the truth – that they have absolutely no inclination to anything but NO – then perhaps they will change.
    Until then, they are being allowed to get away with it and we do not have a functioning Democracy.
    Charlie Brown needs to stop kicking at that fuqing football, and the media needs to stop talking like that bitch Lucy might ever hold it still.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: I think this falls under my pet peeve – that the supposedly liberal MSM report politician X did something because Y, when the only evidence for Y is politician X’s claim that’s why he did it. All politicians lie. Republicans lie all the time. But in this case, that they stated to the Ds that this is their bargaining position does make it in fact their bargaining position. If WAPO or NYT said this, and they probably have, I’d be pissed at them for not also noting that it’s almost certain they’re negotiating in bad faith. Given that these are blog posts and comments, by nature quick and dirty (I’m doing good if I avoid typos that change my meaning), and that we do know Dr. T’s thinking on such things, I can’t get upset at him. Nor can I fault either Darryl for wanting the Rs bad faith noted. Rs do seem to benefit from, in their own phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

    ETA I seem to have Edit on my iPad but not on my PC.

  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: The thing I have learned from a long time of watching political “negotiations” is that they are never about what they seem to be about. That is to say, Biden is not negotiating with the Republicans in the hope that he will get a deal. He is negotiating for other reasons. I mean, he’ll take a deal he likes, because not having to use reconciliation is valuable. And I do think that if Senators tell him, “I will vote for this” they will keep their word. Of course, they avoid committing themselves assiduously. Until they don’t. Which happens sometimes.

    If, as you ask, Chuck Shumer put their current proposal up for a vote, they would vote for it. But a number of D senators would not, and it would fail.

    The critical thing to remember about negotiations is BATNA – Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. What is Biden’s BATNA? Use reconciliation. He’d like to do better. What is Mitch McConnell’s? I’m not sure. He would like “nothing”, but he can’t get that. But maybe he’s still hoping. Maybe they can water it down enough to make it more palatable than the expected reconciliation bill. But they aren’t going to walk in with that proposal. It has to be the end of a very long protracted negotiation that is highly public. So their donors and voters know they “fought hard”.

    Meanwhile, the drama that Biden wants to push into the press is “he’s reaching out and searching for bipartisanship”. Normally the R’s would just say “No” up front, but the threat of a reconciliation bill pulls them into the negotiation.

    As Steven said, this is all blissfully normal.

    Anyway, Steven’s point about structure is well-taken.

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  10. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Isn’t it just the pits that the structures of the blog/comment format make hard feelings so easy to achieve. Damn!

    I would point out that there is a yin/yang situation regarding political motivation in our current era (about which, see paragraph #1). It was Leader McConnell’s reading of the tea leaves in the Obama administration that led to a complete blockade of legislation. Perhaps you’re correct that the winds blow from the opposite direction these days.

    Waiting for actions not journalism to inform me about the difference.

  11. @Jay L Gischer:

    The thing I have learned from a long time of watching political “negotiations” is that they are never about what they seem to be about. That is to say, Biden is not negotiating with the Republicans in the hope that he will get a deal. He is negotiating for other reasons.

    Indeed.

    At least part of the reason for these negotiations is so he can show Manchin and Sinema that he tried, unsuccessfully, to be bipartisan.

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  12. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I get your point, and apologize for my frustration. Truly.

    Thanks and accepted.

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  13. @JohnMcC:

    Isn’t it just the pits that the structures of the blog/comment format make hard feelings so easy to achieve. Damn!

    This is true, and I try to take this into account.

    Still, I think that often people misplace where they should be directing their ire, and it seems fair that I should be able to push back on that sometimes–especially if I think I am being mischaracterized or not being given what I think is sufficiently earned benefit of the doubt.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I don’t pretend to be bothered by anyone speaking right up for their own self. I’m also sort of relieved by your addressing this to me who still has some sense of shame over one night of ‘keyboarding under the influence’. I think I spoke up quite a bit more forcefully than you did.

  15. Michael Cain says:

    Perhaps tangentially, I was reading that there’s a potential split showing up amongst Democrats about transportation dollars. The Biden Administration wants all those dollars to go to repairing existing infrastructure. Among blue states, most of the western ones would prefer to spend a considerable amount on new construction. This is a topic I touch on regularly: the Democrats have two regional groups, one where “urban infrastructure problems” is largely about the urban core collapse, and one where it is largely about the core’s almost unmanageable growth.