Early Light

By Ryan Clancy |  July 20, 2021

“We Shook Hands on It”

There are apparently about a trillion ways the bipartisan infrastructure deal could fall apart.

Don’t let that happen, Mr. President.

President Biden said on Monday that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework was sealed with a handshake — and one of those hands was his.

No one else involved can rescue the BIF from all the Beltway and extremist forces who pray daily for its demise (or would at least be happy to see it perish).

Why should the president step up and make it happen?

·       America needs the hard infrastructure projects contained in the bill — and both parties and the American public agree on that.

·       The BIF provides a two-party solution template for future bipartisan progress.

·       Success on a two-party infrastructure agreement would open the door to passage of other bipartisan legislation on immigration, policing, and other pressing issues. (And failure could well finish off the prospects of more agreements for the balance of the Congress.)

The LA Times reports Biden “reminded his Republican negotiating partners that they’d already agreed to the broad, nearly $1-trillion framework — ‘We shook hands,’ he repeated twice — implying that it would be their fault if the agreement fell apart.” The WaPo says Biden’s comment, “with its accusatory undertones, reflected the agreement’s precarious state at the outset of what could be a pivotal week.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another is that the president gave his word “as a Biden” (to use his phrase) — and it is time he live up to that promise and not just defer to the barons of Capitol Hill.

The president’s direct intervention is now more vital than ever. After a long day of back-and-forth and will-he-or-won’t-he, Senate Majority Leader Schumer on Monday evening set the clock ticking toward a test vote on the BIF that will require 60 votes to keep the plan moving forward. The NYT calls Schumer’s gambit “an effort to force negotiators to move toward finalizing details and a critical mass of Republicans to commit to advancing the deal.”

The problem: The BIF has not been fully translated into legislative language yet — Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said negotiators resolved about half of their outstanding issues Monday, ending with a Zoom call that lasted until nearly 11 p.m., per Politico — and GOP BIF negotiators say they will not back cloture on an incomplete bill. Senate Minority Leader McConnell also told reporters, “We need to see the bill before voting to go to it. I think that’s pretty easily understood.”

While Schumer could “agree to take another shot at it” if the Wednesday vote fails, Politico says, “the case for pessimism is that Democrats and Republicans outside the core bipartisan group have become increasingly vocal about their opposition,” with conservatives “accusing Schumer of purposely sabotaging it with the Wednesday deadline.”

Punchbowl says, “Biden’s agenda at the moment hinges on Congress passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill and then Democrats hanging together to clear a big, multi-trillion dollar budget resolution that calls for huge changes to the social safety net. But can Democratic moderates vote for the latter without having passed the former?”

That appears unlikely. If the BIF fails, Democrats will almost certainly insist that the current $3,500,000,000,000 budget resolution be expanded to include at least some of the hard infrastructure it had contained. With the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimating that just the $3.5 trillion plan could actually cost as much as $5.5 trillion over a decade, that would mean an up-or-down vote on an unfathomably large spending bill.

“As the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure talks drive closer to a ditch,” Politico reports, “the House is impatiently waiting for its turn at the wheel.” But some House Democrats seem happy to see BIF struggle. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who chairs the Transportation Committee, said, “[The] whole thing falling apart is probably the best thing.”

But some in the House are ready to act, Axios reports, and “the Problem Solvers Caucus will hold a news conference Wednesday to renew its call for an ‘expeditious’ stand-alone vote on the bipartisan bill.”

It’s great to see all this support in the House, and we are rooting for the Senate’s bipartisan negotiating team, which is maintaining its esprit de corps, despite the headwinds.

But it’s pretty clear now that saving the deal is in the hands of the president.

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