The infrastructure spotlight shifts stage left

Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Is Infrastructure Week finally here? Like the burst of smoke announcing the election of a new pope, President Biden emerged from the West Wing Thursday to announce a $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal.

“We made serious compromises on both ends,” he said as he thanked the group of Republican and Democratic senators. “They have my word, I’ll stick with what we’ve proposed, and they’ve given me their word as well.”

So is the new plan shovel-ready? Not so fast! Biden’s infrastructure dance may simply shift from being a complicated negotiation with centrists like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to a whole new set of headaches coming from the left.

That’s because Democrats are committed to a two-pronged approach to infrastructure: one bipartisan bill filled with traditional physical projects that Republicans can support, another filled with liberal policy priorities that Democrats can pass by themselves using the reconciliation process.

Progressives are fearful that if they aren’t careful, the bipartisan bill is all they’ll get and their other proposals will be left to die in the Senate. So House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is vowing to guard against that outcome. “There ain’t going to be no bipartisan bill unless we have the reconciliation bill,” she told reporters on Thursday.

Up to this point, Sinema and Manchin have held all the cards. They are the key swing votes in a 50-50 Senate. Liberals have grumbled about things they dislike, but have mostly gone along with the White House because the alternative is not getting anything passed.

Infrastructure is a major opportunity for Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) to flex their muscles. Remember: to them, the more than $2 trillion opening bid from Biden was the compromise. Some of the left wanted an infrastructure and climate package to top $10 trillion.

That’s not going to happen. But liberals don’t have to let infrastructure be a project of Manchin and the GOP. They can gum up the works themselves, because their votes are just as necessary with such slim Democratic majorities.

How Biden navigates this will be the next big test for whether he can truly seal the deal.



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