Biden: Brilliant Negotiator, or Bumbling Boob?
Five Reasons Biden's Infrastructure Deal is....a Big Deal
Expect progressive politicians from AOC to Bernie Sanders to quietly accuse President Biden and moderate Democrats of kowtowing to GOP demands on infrastructure. Indeed, on the surface, it would appear they are right. Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan was watered down to just $580 billion in the “bipartisan deal” that Biden is now backing. But, peer behind the numbers, and you’ll find some surprises.
Narrow Path to Success
Biden’s initial “infrastructure” plan was better described as a wish list of Democratic objectives. Biden proposed investments into everything ranging from R&D of new technology, infrastructure, broadband, climate, housing, education, home health care, and reshoring manufacturing.
The GOP rightly noted that Biden’s plan lacked focus and the price tag would require significant tax increases on businesses. Their counteroffer was a much more modest $600 billion plan, a bill that included just ~$250 billion in new spending, funded through user fees, essentially taxes on regular people. For Biden, the GOP offer was a non-starter.
As negotiations continued, Biden trimmed his plan twice, once to $1.7 trillion, achieved by removing spending on R&D/manufacturing, and then again to a lower undisclosed figure. The smaller price tag allowed Biden to also trim the tax increases needed to fund the bill, though not enough to gain GOP support.
The GOP, expanded their offer to include non-traditional types of infrastructure, growing from their initial $600 billion offer to over $900 billion, but this figure again included “baseline” spending that was already taking place, and had only $380 billion in actual new spending. Biden saw the GOP’s offer as insufficient and broke off negotiations.
A Moderate Win
Ultimately, a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans came together with a compromise. Their deal includes $1.2 trillion in investments, with $580 billion in new spending. It does this without raising taxes on corporations and also without charging user fees. Biden has now backed this plan, much to the chagrin of progressives in his party, who have demanded far more spending on social programs.
While this plan is far less extensive than that originally proposed by Biden, it’s still a remarkable achievement, and Biden is correct to back it for a number of reasons.
First, when talking dollar figures, we might be comparing apples and oranges. Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion plan may also have included baseline spending, it’s unclear. It may be more appropriate to compare it to the bipartisan deal’s headline $1.2 trillion number, rather than the smaller $580 billion figure. We must also not forget to add $250 billion passed separately.
Second, remember that Biden removed spending on R&D and manufacturing from his bill early on. He could get away with this because those investments passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support in a separate bill worth $250 billion. Biden didn’t lose anything, it passed through another channel.
Third, Biden is reserving the right to pass other Democratic priorities removed from the bill through reconciliation without GOP support, and seems intent on doing so.
Forth, Biden secures a historic investment into American infrastructure and a big bipartisan win, the kind that he campaigned on, and the kind of thing Americans overwhelmingly want to see…action, not partisan bickering.
Fifth, Biden gets what Trump never did. Just three years ago, when the GOP controlled the House and Senate, they refused to take on Trump’s own $500 billion infrastructure plan. Trump campaigned on this; his own party didn’t back him.
While there is still no guarantee that this bill will pass, we are closer now than ever to a true infrastructure week. The progressive naysayers will pile on, accusing moderate democrats of caving to the GOP.
The fact is this: these investments were needed decades ago. Democracy requires comprise, and once again the moderates have shown us a realistic path forward. If progressive Democrats got to hold this bill hostage to their demands, we would have nothing. Biden helped secure a huge win for moderates and for the nation.
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