Meaning of "Infrastructure"
One of the key stumbling blocks is a pronounced disagreement over what constitutes infrastructure.
Republicans have a traditional view. Democrats include a wide array of goals including union expansion and child care.
Who Pays and How?
Even if the meaning of infrastructure is limited in some sort of compromise, the second key stumbling block is how much funding, for what, and who pays.
Test in Congress Coming Up
The WSJ notes Biden’s $4 Trillion Plan Now Gets Test in Congress.
With Republicans largely lining up against most of the roughly $4 trillion in proposed spending and related tax increases, Democrats face a series of political and logistical questions.
Should party lawmakers seek a compromise on narrower infrastructure legislation with the GOP, or plunge ahead with a Democratic plan that ignores Republicans’ concerns and can be passed on party lines? Should they expand the scope of the proposals even further? And should they attempt to pass several pieces of legislation or combine everything into one package?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has set a target of passing an infrastructure bill by July 4, leaving Democrats weeks of negotiations on the spending both with Republicans and among themselves.
Wide Political Gap
Biden seeks Republican support and held a series of meetings with bipartisan groups.
The Republicans are willing to spend $568 billion. Democrats seek $2.3 trillion for their definition of infrastructure plus another $1.7 trillion for other pet projects.
What They Are Saying
- Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.): “That [level of spending] makes you very uncomfortable, you want to find how you’re going to pay for it. Are we going to be able to be competitive and pay for what we need in the country? And we got to figure out what our needs are and maybe make some adjustments, who knows.”
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), the leading Republican behind the $568 billion proposal, said in a statement Thursday night that she had a “constructive and substantive call” with Mr. Biden on infrastructure. Mr. Biden said Ms. Capito “seemed very serious and very positive” about the talks.
Agreement on $568 billion is a start of sorts. But what about the rest?
The Progressives are not at all pleased.
“You can’t go to work if you have an obligation to care for a child or an older relative, so it’s essential that we keep it in any infrastructure proposal,” Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said.
Hmm. That's the pesky first problem in full glory: What precisely is the meaning of infrastructure?
The Progressives insist it includes two years of free child care for the needy with union wages on top of it.
Getting to the Point
"You have pretty expansive spending on top of spending, with the only way to pay for it is to go after taxes,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska). “I think it makes it very difficult for it to be truly bipartisan.”
“There are certainly some in the president’s inner circle who were part of the Obama team who say, ‘Look we can’t just have this go on forever, there has to be an outcome,’ ” said Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), another close Biden ally.
Meaning of Outcome
- Something Passes
- Nothing Passes
Coons seems to dismiss option 2, but that is an outcome, and a very possible one at that.
This could go on for four years with no bills signed.
Can Something Pass?
Yes, of course. But the key is whether or not Progressives are willing to compromise.
I would expect Republicans to go beyond $568 billion, possibly to $900 billion or so. I would not expect them to agree to child care, nor would I expect Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Krysten Sinema of Arizona to sign on.
Nonetheless, many Progressives want to push for even more than the $4 trillion combined plan that Biden outlined.
Whether something passes (option 1) or nothing passes (option 2), depends not only on what compromises the Progressives are willing to make, but also on what Democrat senators Manchin and Sinema are willing to go along with.
In addition, any tax hikes need to appease 25 House democrats from New York who demand tax hikes on the wealthy (but a reduction in SALT taxes primarily for the New York wealthy)
One Big Bill or Multiple Bills?
I fail to see how one big bill can possibly accommodate all the competing views. Yet, many Progressives mistakenly believe they can ram their ideas through in one fell swoop.
One glorious bill is the path to nothing.
The path to something involves splitting Biden's proposals into pieces, agreeing to passable goals and giving up on the rest.
Infrastructure is doable but only to the extent Manchin, Sinema, and the New York Democrats are willing to go along.
That means separating out infrastructure spending from taxes. In turn that means there may not be any tax hikes (or more likely minimal tax hikes) that will not cover even the compromise spending increases.
Numerous Roadblocks to Anything
For discussion on the Manchin, Sinema, and New York SALT roadblocks that impede resolution of literally every Biden-supported agenda item, please see Democrat's DC Statehood Idea Is Dead Already. What Else is Dead?
Option 1, "something" vs option 2, "nothing" is much harder than it appears at first glance. That's a good thing.