Liberal members of President Joe Biden's own party could tank a bipartisan infrastructure package under negotiation by centrist lawmakers, which would deliver a blow to his agenda and vision of a post-partisan Washington.
As more Republicans publicly endorse the infrastructure agreement in principle, far-left Democrats in both chambers have become increasingly vocal about floated compromises. The grumblings foreshadow problems for the deal's passage in a narrowly divided House and Senate.
Some Democrats are rankled by the infrastructure negotiators deprioritizing climate change, at least in a version of the proposal leaked this week. They are also concerned about the group's pitch of $579 billion in new spending. Though the coalition supports spending roughly $1.2 trillion in total over eight years on traditional projects, it is still less than Biden's original $2.3 trillion plan.
A bipartisan infrastructure effort would be a boon for Biden, who campaigned on his deal-making chops. But liberal Democrats are reluctant to concede without a guarantee from centrist senators, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to back their climate change or social welfare plans. And every Democratic vote matters, regardless if the measure is cleared via regular order or a fast-track process known as reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority.
Centrist Democrats, including former California Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland, are equally frustrated with their far-left colleagues because lining 11 Republican senators behind a Democratic initiative is a feat.
"Members without the votes complain. As any driver trying to get on the D.C. Beltway knows, best to take the on-ramp with the least traffic," Mulholland told the Washington Examiner.
Republican strategist Evan Siegfried is bracing for more Democratic criticism over infrastructure as they overture their liberal base. But he predicts they will eventually cave because, if they do not, they could be scapegoated if history holds and their party loses control of the House and Senate after the 2022 midterm elections.
Voters will punish them more for "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good" as opposed to not passing any legislation at all, Siegfried said.
"This is where elected Democrats on the far Left have to decide whether they care more about results and compromising, or pontificating and postulating," he added. "While these Dems are likely not to suffer the consequences of their obstruction in their own district, they will need to recognize that if they sink a bipartisan bill, it will have electoral consequences for vulnerable House and Senate Democrats in 2022."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought to calm Democratic nerves during a floor speech this week. During an address, he recommitted to his dual-track approach for infrastructure: bipartisan and unilateral through reconciliation. The second could be a $6 trillion vehicle for Biden proposals, such as universal childcare and free community college, which will likely be packed with money for Manchin's and Sinema's states to curry favor.
"Democrats believe we have other priorities that the Senate must consider above and beyond a bipartisan infrastructure bill, not the least of which is addressing the urgent challenge of climate change," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted during a press conference that hopes for a bipartisan measure did not "mean that we will abandon how we see infrastructure for the future," a similar message to the White House.
"We know that one bill is not going to do it for us," she said. "We have to have a bill that — not just about addressing green, but addressing women, people who are in — people with disabilities who need care and the rest so that their family members and they can fully participate in how we go forward."
The Biden administration has given negotiators until next week to record progress.
Anxiety over Manchin's power in the Senate has been growing for weeks, as he and centrists curb Biden's ambitions and block reforms to the chamber's filibuster rules. Democrats have opened up about the tensions, including Biden. And senators have vented their votes are worth the same as Manchin's, a lawmaker who hails from a small, mostly white state.
Biden incorrectly suggested this month Manchin and Sinema sided more frequently with Republicans than Democrats. White House press secretary Jen Psaki clumsily walked back his remarks, contending he was commenting on political punditry and not the senators.
"He considers them both friends, he considers him both good working partners, and he also believes that in democracy, we don't have to see eye to eye on every detail of every single issue in order to work together," she said.
Other Democrats have attacked Manchin more personally, ripping him for owning a houseboat docked on Washington's Potomac River. Sinema, too, has been targeted for her dramatic "no" to create a $15 federal minimum wage and for missing the vote on whether to convene a commission investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
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Original Author: Naomi Lim
Original Location: Democratic infighting could doom Biden's infrastructure agenda