Build on this: Democrats should pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, then move onto bigger, bolder things

·2 min read

Monday is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deadline for a vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. The date may come and go without that happening, but the deadline matters — because it clarifies a rift that could bring down almost Joe Biden’s entire domestic agenda.

Moderate and mainstream Democrats seek to approve a Senate-passed bill investing in roads, bridges, broadband and climate resiliency projects in order to bring something concrete home to their constituents. Restive progressives, trying to maximize leverage for their own larger priorities, including dozens of improvements to the social safety net, are insisting upon passage through both houses via reconciliation of the $3.5 trillion, everything-under-the-sun package as a prerequisite for even taking the infrastructure bill up for consideration.

This is the dumbest game of legislative chicken ever. Clearly the moderates are right: A bird nearly in the hand is worth two in the bush.

We like a lot of what’s in the massive framework. Free community college is overdue. So is deeply subsidized child-care for working- and middle-class Americans, and a respectable federal paid leave policy for new mothers and fathers, and coverage of dental, vision and hearing benefits under Medicare. But Sens. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Josh Gottheimer’s House “Problem Solvers” say no way; the bill is too rich for their blood, particularly in the wake of trillions in COVID relief already authorized. That means Dems can’t even get to the simple majority support necessary.

The only strategically defensible course is to pass the infrastructure bill, then use the momentum from that very real victory to try getting Manchin, Sinema, Gottheimer and others to meet them more than halfway on the larger package. They might, they might not. Such is life.

But demanding passage of the massive package before doing another very good, very big, bipartisan thing Democrats claim to care about is like a gunman demanding a safe get opened “or the lady gets it.” Except in this case, the lady is the president of their own party.

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