Democratic leaders are engaging in a cynical bait-and-switch in a “deal” on a federal infrastructure bill. Every Republican in the Senate, including those who initially signed on to what they thought was a good-faith agreement, should reject the Democrats’ ploy.
The difference in the two parties’ approaches has been obvious for months. Republicans were willing to spend about $500 billion on things traditionally considered “infrastructure,” such as roads, bridges, ports, airports, and broadband. President Joe Biden initially proposed a behemoth plan costing more than five times that amount, which included all sorts of liberal wish-list items, such as “job training,” housing, and union organizing, that have nothing to do with traditional infrastructure. Indeed, even by liberal network CNN’s accounting, which gives the benefit of the doubt to Democrats in all matters, only 30% of Biden’s proposal was really infrastructure. (Republicans said it was just 7%.)
The obvious political solution (whether wise in policy or not is another question), one that in broad outlines a group of Republican senators has offered for many weeks without acceptance from Biden until now, was to take the GOP actual-infrastructure proposal and add to it some of the Democratic non-infrastructure wish list, for a total price of something less than $1 trillion. Indeed, that’s what Biden and the bipartisan group of senators announced on Thursday: a plan costing $972 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion if extended to eight years.
Before the sun had even set on the agreement, however, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both effectively reneged on it. Now, they say they won’t enact the compromise package unless a second bill, containing almost all of their other extravagances, passes at the same time through budget reconciliation rules, which will allow passage with a simple majority of the Senate rather than 60 of the 100 members being in favor.
“If this [bipartisan deal] is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden said. “It’s in tandem.”
Obviously, if one side gets everything it wants while including things bitterly opposed by the other, then this is not a legitimate compromise, and it's certainly not the one that the senators agreed to. This Biden-Pelosi maneuver is effectively a “no-deal” statement, and Republicans should respond to it by refusing to support the compromise.
The original Biden package is a disaster that must not pass Congress. It would direct the federal government to usurp local decision-making and private-sector choices, usually at far greater cost because of federal regulatory hurdles and the bloated federal bureaucracy. It would waste hundreds of billions of dollars on projects such as high-speed rail, for which there is no real constituency, and for electric vehicles, which are already finding their own markets anyway. It would spend $400 billion expanding or creating centralized social spending of the sort that was rightly rejected by then-“New Democrats” such as President Bill Clinton 25 years ago. And it would revisit counterproductive “green energy” boondoggles of the “Solyndra” variety that, under President Barack Obama, were positively scandalous.
Biden bargained in bad faith on behalf of horrible policy options. If he says that he will sign only if the two huge spending packages come to him in tandem, then Republicans should agree to neither of them. Many infrastructure needs can be handled by state governments, most of which are already flush with federal coronavirus-relief cash. Plus, much of what the Democrats want is worse than doing nothing anyway.
If Biden wants all or nothing, then nothing is far better — a federal infrastructure bill can wait until a new president is inaugurated in 2025 who is serious about working across the aisle.
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