Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, are trying to negotiate in good faith with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure package, and both sides are sounding optimistic that a deal can be reached.
Here’s a message for Republicans: It’s a trap!
Democrats have zero intention of compromising. Whatever they give up at the negotiating table with Republicans, they plan to pass in a separate bill. In fact, some Democrats argue it’s not worth the effort to pretend to be bipartisan and complain that President Joe Biden is wasting valuable time. But after Biden was criticized for dismissing the efforts of Republican senators to reach a compromise on coronavirus relief legislation, he apparently feels he must go through the motions of at least trying this time. So he’s putting his “whole soul” into the pretense of negotiating.
In truth, an infrastructure deal should not be hard to reach. Yes, on paper Republicans and Democrats seem to be far apart. Senate Republicans initially proposed a $568 billion plan, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Republicans could go as high as $800 billion. Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion plan. But most of that spending has nothing to do with infrastructure. Politico reported that just $821 billion—or 37%—of Biden’s plan is focused on traditional infrastructure items such as transportation, electricity and internet. In other words, when it comes to actual infrastructure, the basis for a deal is there.
Except it would be a fake deal. What happens to the remaining $1.5 trillion in noninfrastructure spending in Biden’s plan? Democrats have redefined “infrastructure” to include spending on everything from paid leave to child care to expanded home care services for the elderly. Are they ready to give up all that to reach a deal with Republicans? Not a chance. Will they agree to try to pass the remaining items using the regular order in the Senate, where they would be subject to a GOP filibuster? No way.
Here’s what Democrats will do: They will split Biden’s plan into two bills. They will reach a “compromise” with Republicans on a roughly $800 billion traditional infrastructure bill, paid for with the user fees that Republicans want. They will pass it with great fanfare and a bipartisan, filibuster-proof majority. Then Biden will make a big show of inviting Republican senators to the White House for the signing ceremony. He will give a speech claiming that he is delivering on his promise to unite the country and bring both parties together to get things done for the American people. He will bask in the accolades for his bipartisanship.
And it will all be a big lie. Because as soon as the signing pens have been handed out, Democrats will ram through the other $1.5 trillion in spending and corporate tax hikes they want using the budget reconciliation process, which requires no Republican votes. They will have to negotiate with themselves and make some concessions to keep Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on board. But they will get virtually everything they wanted to begin with, from spending to taxes. In fact, they could even restore any traditional infrastructure spending they “gave up” in negotiations with Republicans and pass it as part of their reconciliation package—and there will be nothing Republicans can do to stop them.
Biden has openly admitted this is his plan. “I want to get a bipartisan deal on as much as we can get a bipartisan deal on ... roads, bridges, broadband, all infrastructure,” he said in an interview last week, “then (we can) fight over what’s left and see if I can get it done without Republicans, if need be.” Sorry, that is not compromise. Compromise means both sides give up something to get something. If Democrats get everything they want and give up nothing, it’s not compromise—it’s called taking your opponent to the cleaners. Republicans would only be giving Biden’s gargantuan spending plans the false veneer of bipartisanship when Democrats are, in fact, conceding nothing at all.
In a recent editorial, The Washington Post questioned whether Republicans are engaged in nothing more than “Kabuki” theater on infrastructure—pretending to negotiate in good faith when they really have no intention of making substantive concessions. The Post is half right: There is definitely a Kabuki dance going on in Washington. But it’s Democrats who are wearing the makeup and kimonos.