At nearly midnight on Friday, 13 House Republicans gave Speaker Nancy Pelosi the votes she needed to pass the so-called “bipartisan infrastructure bill” — colloquially known in DC as the BIF. In doing so, these House Republicans, among them two members of the House GOP leadership team, all but guaranteed House passage of Joe Biden’s hotly partisan, $2 trillion reconciliation bill, which represents the largest cradle-to-grave expansion of federal power since the New Deal.
Over at National Review, Philip Klein called the move by these 13 Republicans “political malpractice,” and a “betrayal.” He’s right, particularly on the first point.
Republicans who supported the bill predictably justified their vote as one for “roads and bridges,” pointing to the benefits that the bill’s largest provisions — like the $47 billion in climate funding and the $66 billion for the failing Amtrak system, provided without any reform — will ostensibly bring to their districts.
As Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told The Hill, “I thought it was good for our district, I thought it was good for our country.” Meanwhile, left-of-center commentator Andrew Sullivan huffed about the “fanatical tribalism” being applied to a bill about infrastructure.
That the BIF was a bill solely focused on infrastructure may have been true at the bill’s conception. But for months, a single and unavoidable political reality has been obvious: the substance of the bill hardly mattered. Rather, the infrastructure bill was but a chit, a chess piece, in forcing through passage of the larger, hotly partisan reconciliation legislation. Their fates were linked; one would not pass without the other.
This was a choice made very clearly, and very openly, by congressional Democrats. In June, Pelosi stated, “There ain’t gonna be no bipartisan bill, unless we have a reconciliation bill,” a sentiment she reiterated in October when she confirmed “the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass once we have agreement on the reconciliation bill.”
House Progressives made the linkage of the two bills central to their strategy of leveraging concessions in the reconciliation legislation, refusing to provide votes for the BIF until their reconciliation demands were met (six of them ended up refusing to support passage the BIF, paving the way for House Republicans to be the deciding votes).
Even President Joe Biden tied the fate of the infrastructure legislation to the reconciliation bill. He did so explicitly in June, then said he didn’t really mean it after Senate Republicans expressed outrage (but then 18 of them voted to pass the bill in August, anyway), and then linked them again in October when he told House Democrats that infrastructure “ain’t going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation,” reconciliation the infrastructure bill.
So to claim that a vote for the infrastructure legislation was merely a vote for “roads and bridges,” devoid of any other major political context, is just willfully ignorant of the obvious and openly stated politics at work. A vote for the infrastructure bill was very clearly a vote for the reconciliation legislation. The inability to understand this reality raises not only questions of basic political acumen, but of the ability of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s leadership team to hold their conference together on consequential votes.
It’s worth unpacking a few of the provisions in the reconciliation bill that this group of Republicans will help make possible. Among them:
- A 10-year amnesty for illegal immigrants, which includes work permits and driver’s licenses and cannot be undone by future administrations for a decade.
- Provides millions of dollars in funding for the IRS to enforce the Biden administration’s plan to review every bank account with $10,000 or more.
- Expands and shores up provisions of Obamacare.
- Eliminates the statutory cap on employment visas, effectively allowing Big Tech companies and other mega-corporations to prioritize hiring foreign workers over American workers.
- Facilitates enforcement of Biden’s vaccine mandate by increasing OSHA penalties on businesses up to $700,000 per violation and provides billions in funding for the Department of Labor to increase enforcement.
- Mandates taxpayer coverage of abortion, leaving the long-agreed upon Hyde amendment out of the bill.
- Provides half a trillion dollars in climate spending, including clean energy tax credits to subsidize solar, electric vehicles, and clean energy production, as well as federal spending on clean energy technology and manufacturing, all while limiting domestic energy production, thereby increasing dependence on Russia and China.
- Provides roughly $400 billion for expanded government childcare and universal pre-K, which pumps millions into failed Head Start programs, excludes support for families who prefer at-home child-care arrangements, and by requiring that preschool teachers have a college degree, will reduce the availability of child-care options.
- A host of new taxes, and a giant tax cut for the rich: by including a repeal on the cap for the state and local tax deduction, Democrats will provide a $30 billion net direct tax cut for the top 5 percent of earners, largely in blue states where the state and local taxes are much higher.
The “Build Back Better” reconciliation legislation is a bill that transforms the role of the state in every aspect of an individual’s life, while expanding key Democratic priorities like amnesty, abortion, cheap foreign labor, a dysfunctional health care system, and invasions of financial privacy. And consideration of the bill in the House wasn’t made possible by the Democrats in the majority, but by House Republicans.
There are those, like Sullivan, who will still bemoan that political polarization has taken over even relatively popular policies like infrastructure. But politicizing the infrastructure bill was the clear and unambiguous choice that Democrats made when they linked the two bills. To expect most Republicans to be as tin-eared and politically naive (or, like Rep. Adam Kinzinger, as openly tied to Democratic priorities) as the group of 13 is ridiculous. It’s asking them to act against their own self-interest.
Democrats drafted a partisan reconciliation bill with no Republican input, full of provisions they knew Republicans wouldn’t support, and then hijacked an otherwise bipartisan bill to ensure passage of its much more expansive and partisan cousin. This was a specific choice Democrats made, and Republicans are not responsible for it — nor should they be expected to vote for a bill that is the stated gateway to related legislation with which they profoundly disagree.
Regardless, the infrastructure bill now goes to the president’s desk. Eighteen Republican senators helped pass it in August, and so did 13 House Republicans (for a total of 31), knowing full well they were also voting on the amnesty-filled, abortion-funding, financially-snooping, cheap-labor loving reconciliation bill, gave it the required boost. Betrayal, as Klein noted, is not too strong a term.