In the News

Senate Republicans demand a say in infrastructure legislation

Washington Examiner: Emily Brooks

Senate Republicans are wary of posturing from President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats trying to get bipartisan support for the nearly $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan infrastructure proposal.

The initial plan released by the White House was a nonstarter for Republicans. The vast majority of the spending was not initiatives traditionally considered infrastructure such as roads and bridges, they said, and proposed corporate tax hikes made the entire package a no-go for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In the face of wide Republican opposition, the White House indicated that Biden is open to compromise.

“Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain,” Biden said of the plan on Wednesday. ”We'll be open to good ideas and good-faith negotiations.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday added: “We want bipartisanship every step of the way.” She also said that there could be two bills, one on infrastructure and one on the “care economy,” rather than lumping issues such as paid leave into a bill with bridge-building funds.

But a key group of 10 Senate Republicans, those who sought to broker a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill and met with Biden at the White House only to watch Democrats pass the bill without any Republican support, had a “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me” reaction to Biden.

“The Administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy. Fewer than 24 hours after our meeting in the Oval Office, the Senate Democratic Leader began the process of triggering reconciliation which precluded Republican participation and allowed for the package to pass without a single Republican vote,” the group of 10, which includes Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, said in a statement later on Wednesday. 

Ten Republicans is the magic number that would need to join with Democrats to pass legislation and bypass the Senate filibuster. Democrats used budget reconciliation, a process that allows the Senate to pass a bill with 51 votes instead of the usual 60-vote threshold, to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without the support of any Republicans earlier this year.

And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is in a position to do the same thing again. The Senate parliamentarian this week gave the green light to Democrats to use that rule and get more opportunities to use reconciliation.

One reason why Democrats could be expressing flexibility when it comes to an infrastructure proposal is that West Virginia centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in an op-ed this week that “we should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country today.” Without his support in the 50-50 divided Senate, Democrats cannot pass a bill on a purely party-line vote.

But top Democrats are not ruling out using the method to ram the legislation through.

“If we have to go to reconciliation, that’s a lever, but I hope it’s not something that we need to do,” Pelosi said on Thursday.

Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said in a podcast earlier this month that if Biden was moving to try to pass a bill with the plan as-is, “that would be a great tragedy.”

“One of the few issues perhaps, that you could still forge a bipartisan consensus on is infrastructure because everyone needs it in their districts,” Johnson said.

Members of the Democratic Party have expressed frustration with the White House opening a negotiation with Republicans.

Internal party dynamics are set to complicate Democratic leaders’ attempts at bipartisanship.

The 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus on Friday released a list of priorities for the American Jobs Plan, including universal childcare and paid family leave, that leaves little room for negotiation with Republicans.

“We agree that it’s time for transformative change, and we look forward to working with the Biden administration to expand on their proposal and ensure that the American Jobs Plan goes big to truly meet the needs of the public,” Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington told Politico.

If congressional progressives flex their power, Biden White House and Democratic leaders could be caught in the tough spot between trying to keep their promise to pursue bipartisan solutions while risking losing support from their own core base.