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On the day we learned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is set to revise forward its warnings about tipping points in Earth's natural systems, in which global heating will trigger a cascade of events that could lead to "possibly irrevocable disaster" with respect to the continuing viability of human civilization, President Joe Biden and a group of bipartisan senators announced they'd reached a deal on infrastructure. The early outlines contained $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, $7.5 billion for electric buses, $73 billion for "power infrastructure"—what exactly that will go towards is unclear at this point—and $47 billion for climate "resilience." Because this is Washington, D.C., many of the headlines out of this focused on the bipartisan nature of the bill, and how members of both parties Came Together to Get Things Done. Never mind that if this is the scale of our response to the onrushing catastrophe of the climate crisis, you don't need to bother flossing.
It's not the extent of the infrastructure push, however, at least according to Biden. "If this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it," he told reporters. "It's in tandem." The other part of the tandem is a reconciliation bill, expected to be much larger and contain many more priorities of the Democratic Party and the liberal-left, which would require just 50+1 votes to pass. That means Democrats could just pass it along party lines after, in theory, passing this bipartisan bill separately. That's a highly theoretical proposition because, first of all, it remains extremely unlikely to this observer that there are 10 Republican votes in the Senate for any infrastructure bill. But then there is the very obvious response to this Tandem proposal that already came bellowing out of Senator Lindsey Graham in Politico's Playbook this Friday morning.
After hearing what Biden said about linking the small bipartisan bill to the big reconciliation bill, Graham told us … he’s out.
“If he’s gonna tie them together, he can forget it!” Graham said. “I’m not doing that. That’s extortion! I’m not going to do that. The Dems are being told you can’t get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game.”
Graham said the five Republicans negotiating the deal never told him about the linkage strategy and he does not believe that they were aware of it. “Most Republicans could not have known that,” he said. “There's no way. You look like a fucking idiot now.” He added, “I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”
OK, so this is suitably dramatic, but it's hard to fault Graham's logic here. You might not like the Republican opposition to infrastructure investment on the level this country requires based on the massive challenges it faces over the coming years and decades, but the basic calculus makes sense. Why would they make a deal with Biden and the Democrats based on certain spending levels and priorities, delivering the Democratic president a Bipartisan Win in the process, only for Democrats to just go around them and enact all their other priorities also? Suddenly, this testament to Biden's pragmatic dealmaking credentials becomes a mere tributary into a Mississippi River of spending—a river that probably better reflects the level of spending that is necessary, but that's besides the point if you're in Mitch McConnell's caucus. There's no reason for Republicans to take this deal.
And the tandem approach does appear to be the play. Joe Manchin has already signaled his support for a reconciliation bill in addition to this bipartisan initiative he co-championed, and the Democratic House has made clear, via Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that they will not even take up this deal until the reconciliation bill gets through the Senate. If they hold to that, which they should for the sake of the country, it's impossible to see why 10 Republicans would vote for The Deal. Manchin is already talking about rolling back their 2017 Tax Cut for Rich People and Corporations as part of the reconciliation bill! Not that they were ever going to push the deal through anyway, unless Mitch McConnell is suddenly interested in doing what's right and necessary even if it makes a Democratic president looks good.
Instead of all that, Democrats should write a reconciliation bill that contains all their infrastructure priorities, pass it through both houses of Congress with or without Republican votes, and Joe Biden should sign it. And Jesus, get some muscle in that climate spending. "Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems," that IPCC report says, according to The Guardian. "Humans cannot."
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