After President Joe Biden’s changing statements about what kind of infrastructure-labeled spending spree he intends to sign into law, Republicans face a conundrum. GOP senators still think they have a deal with Democrats that will fund infrastructure, not a left-wing laundry list of entitlement spending and Green New Deal power grabs.
But Biden and congressional Democrats are still planning on passing a second bill that will contain exactly the kind of spending spree that Republicans say they oppose. Democrats think they can do it by the back-door strategy of a reconciliation bill that jettisons the need for support from any GOP senator.
That leaves Republican voters wondering if the bipartisan deal mainstream Republicans are touting as proof that they have stood up to Biden and a victory is nothing of the kind. Rather than having forced Democrats to agree to their terms, the left’s determination to get their way on both infrastructure and the rest of their spending plans may mean that Republicans are being rolled by their smarter and more ruthless adversaries again.
The bloated $4 trillion “infrastructure” plan Biden unveiled in the spring included a wide-ranging leftist wish list of spending projects on environmentalism and entitlements. Democrats brazenly deconstructed the definition of infrastructure to come up with a proposal in which anything they liked could fall under its meaning.
Even the most weak-minded of the moderate Senate Republicans understood Biden’s attempt to reboot Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” for the 21st century by calling everything “infrastructure” was a bridge too far. In a Senate split down the middle between the two parties, there was no way this boondoggle could obtain the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster.
So Biden ultimately agreed to a deal with Republicans that would allegedly limit the spending to projects dictionaries would define as infrastructure. The result was the celebratory June 24 announcement at the White House of the deal. But within hours, the DC Republican establishment was reminded of the perils of trying to be reasonable in an era of partisan ideological culture wars fought by people who don’t care about playing fair.
Just hours after Biden was back-slapping GOP senators and seemingly agreeing to a compromise, the president reversed course and made it clear that, appearances to the contrary, he wasn’t choosing bipartisanship over the desires of his party’s base. Speaking with reporters later that day, Biden said he wouldn’t sign the bipartisan deal unless it was accompanied by another bill — likely passed by a narrow partisan vote via the reconciliation trick — that would contain all the mad ideological spending the Republicans claimed to be negotiating against.
The White House then spent the following two days walking back Biden’s remarks. The president reportedly called the GOP senators he had been dealing with and assured them he wouldn’t veto the bill they thought he had agreed to if the bigger bill wasn’t also put on his desk.
Republicans quickly accepted his assurances. On June 27, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who is not running for re-election next year and was one of the key GOP negotiators on this deal, told ABC’s “This Week,” “I am glad they [the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrats’ omnibus spending legislation] have been delinked and we can move forward with a bipartisan bill.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who is deeply unpopular with the GOP base but still a man to be reckoned with in a 50-50 Senate, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on the matter, “I do trust the president.” Only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded a cautionary note, saying Biden had to demand that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer back down on their plans to also pass the bigger-spending bill. But there is little chance of that.
With the enthusiastic support of her caucus, Pelosi has already indicated that she intends to move ahead with the multi-trillion-dollar fake infrastructure spending bill no matter what Biden tells Republicans. Schumer has similar plans. And if at least 10 Republicans listen to Portman and Romney, then Biden will get to sign both bills, just like Democrats want.
Moderate Republicans seem determined not to play hardball in response. Fearful of being depicted as obstructionists and wishing to take credit for more spending, they will stick to a deal with Biden that will just provide Biden a fig leaf of respectability and bipartisanship. Democrats will wind up getting everything they want in legislation that will help transform the economy for the worse and generate even more debt that future generations will struggle to pay off.
At this point, it is necessary to remind those moderate Republicans why Trump essentially hijacked their party from out from under them five years ago.
Over eight years with President Barack Obama, Republicans failed to stop a billion-dollar cronyist stimulus package, the passage of ObamaCare, then a legislative process that allowed Obama’s dangerous Iran nuclear deal. Washington Republicans had amassed a record of failure. They were content to play the role of honorable losers in the same manner as failed presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.
These GOP failures ultimately led to the rise of Donald Trump, whom these GOP moderates loathe. The same pattern may be repeating itself again now.
Yes, Biden’s inability to publicly stay on message raises new questions about whether he is fully in charge of his faculties at all times. But the main takeaway from the back and forth about infrastructure is that if Democrats are simply working around Republicans to get their way, then rather than negotiate and let Biden have both bills, then perhaps the GOP should adopt a tough negotiating policy that will present him the choice of getting a narrow infrastructure bill alone or nothing at all.
If instead Republican senators trust Biden’s word, they will wind up getting rolled again. That would not only be a disgrace but more evidence that the populist critique of the party establishment as dangerously weak is still right on target.