Senate Infrastructure Negotiations Are Pointless and (Almost) Everyone Knows It

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(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin has declared (again) that he will not vote to eliminate or abolish the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass most bills. There are 50 Democrats in the Senate, and there is no scenario in which 10 Republicans join them to support a bill that even remotely resembles President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan. That means the only way the Senate can pass some iteration of this infrastructure package is through budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority vote.

If I’m wrong about this, I will print out this column and eat it on video for your amusement. I’ll even let readers choose from a variety of condiments with which to pair it. Drinks and merriment will be had.

Regrettably, this will not come to pass.

I say this because I believe Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when he declared last month that “100 percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration.” I say this because this week he slammed Democrats’ infrastructure proposals on the Senate floor, and called on Democrats to “get serious.” I say this because this week Republican Sen. Minority Whip John Thune said, “It’s hard for me to see a scenario where even 10 Republicans would vote for something that gets very far beyond where Shelley’s discussions were with the White House.”

The “Shelley” he’s referencing is Republican Senator Shelley Capito, who had been negotiating with White House officials and consistently underwhelming them with her infrastructure counteroffers. To give you an idea of how far apart the two sides were, at last check the Biden administration proposed a $1.7 trillion bill that Capito countered with a number just under $1 trillion, with the massive caveat that just $330 million of that figure would be new spending. The rest would simply redirect existing money toward infrastructure. In response, the White House ended the talks.

And yet, the very same day the administration told Capito to take her ball and go home, it inexplicably said it was pivoting toward more negotiations with Senate Republicans, even though pretty much everyone understands that 10 Republicans won’t vote for a plan Biden and the Democrats find acceptable.

I mean, what are we even doing here?

These new talks are supposedly being spearheaded by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who infamously curtsied whilst voting against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. If you want to know how Sinema’s newfound dealmaker role has been received by fellow Democrats in these theatrics, here’s what CNN’s Manu Raju tweeted Tuesday night:

“There is no way Manchin and Sinema are going to cut a deal that represents the view of the caucus,” said one Democratic senator.

Another Dem to @FoxReports: “A group of four or five people don’t get to carry 50 Democratic votes on their back.”

If that’s the case, why are Democrats engaging in more pointless negotiations?

It’s possible a few Democrats honestly believe 10 Republicans might cross the aisle, which again, is ridiculous. It’s also possible that some Democrats want to at least show they tried to make a good faith effort to negotiate with Republicans. But if this is the case, didn’t the Biden administration’s back and forth with Capito accomplish this?

As I type, a bipartisan group of 10 senators has just announced they’ve struck a tentative deal on an infrastructure package. Good luck with that. Unsurprisingly, the proposal is not all that different from what Capito had offered up. At this point it’s not clear if the plan can get 10 Republican supporters, or if enough Democrats will find it sufficient, let alone a White House that seems determined to go big. This development will not yield a scenario in which 10 Republicans vote for an infrastructure bill.

Anyway, on Tuesday – right before the White House officially declared the Capito talks dead – Majority Leader Chuck Schumer gave an absolutely bewildering response when asked if he’s confident that bipartisan infrastructure talks will result in a bill that reflects the views of Senate Democrats.

Schumer’s response was a casserole of gobbledygook:

Well look, we have–we’re proposing–we’re pursuing a two-path proposal. On the one hand, there’s bipartisan negotiations, and those are continuing. The first between President Biden and Senator Capito with just Republicans. Those seem to be running into a brick wall. But a bipartisan group led by Senator Sinema and, I think Senator Portman is the lead Republican, are trying to put something together that might be closer to what the president needs.

And so we’re–that’s good. But that’s not gonna be the only answer. We all know as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things that the country needs in a totally bipartisan–in a bipartisan way. And so at the same time, we are pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation, and that is going on at the same time, and it may well be that part of the bill that’ll pass will be bipartisan, and part of it will through reconciliation. But we’re not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill. We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join. Thank you, everybody.

Several things about this should concern Democrats.

First, when talking about the bipartisan group supposedly being led by Sinema, Schumer clearly wasn’t sure who the Republican point person is, if anyone. Saying, “I think Senator Portman is the lead Republican” didn’t exactly instill confidence that he knew what was happening on that front. It’s as if Schumer never thought he’d be in that position.

Second, Schumer indicated he knows Democrats won’t be able to get what they want “in a bipartisan way,” which is why he is “pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation.” Apparently at the moment, Senate Democrats can’t pursue passing an infrastructure bill through budget reconciliation. Instead, they can only pursue the pursuit for now, until the talks inevitably fail.

Third, Schumer said, “We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join.”

The two paths Schumer cited are diametrically opposed to one another. One involves negotiations with Republicans in the hopes of getting some of them on board with whatever infrastructure bill Schumer puts to a vote. The other is a “screw you” to Republicans, whose votes would not be needed to pass through reconciliation. How could these paths “join”? Moreover, since Schumer clearly knows he’ll need reconciliation to pass at least part of an infrastructure plan, why not pass the whole thing via that method?

Is it because the Senate parliamentarian might rule against it? In that case, Schumer can always fire the parliamentarian just like Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott did in 2001 after being handed rulings he didn’t like.

Another possible reason for these useless negotiations would normally be too idiotic to entertain, but since this is the United States Senate, it must be considered: maybe some Democrats believe it’s more important for a bill to get one or two Republican votes for the sake of saying the bill is “bipartisan” than it is for Democrats to pass a bill they actually want passed – or at least say they do – without Republican support.

Reporters have asked bipartisan fetishists Manchin and Sinema a gazillion times whether they’d support eliminating or at least reforming the filibuster. But when it comes to a bill that can be passed through reconciliation, a more important question for them at this point is: If you decide reconciliation is the way to go, are you willing to give concessions to Republicans simply to get a handful of votes you don’t even need?

The bottom line is this: Voters do not care which legislators voted for a bill that the president eventually signs into law. What they care about is what the legislation means for them. No one who will drive on a bridge or through a tunnel that was repaired using money from the American Jobs Plan will rue that Shelley Capito or Rob Portman didn’t approve the spending. Nobody’s brain works that way.

At least, nobody’s brain outside Washington.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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