The Senate has left for the week, or at least has recessed, another week in which the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations once again produced nothing. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had some luck in kickstarting the group by holding a procedural vote that would have set a schedule for consideration of an eventual, actual bill. Despite the fact that Republicans say they'll have something as early as Monday, they filibustered starting the official Senate clock on the bill.
It's been about delaying this process from the time President Joe Biden announced his big economic goals of investment in both hard and human infrastructure back in April. They've been ostensibly working on their own and bipartisan infrastructure proposals since then—starting with West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's direct talks with Biden, then through this gang that reached an agreement with Biden on June 24. Despite the weeks and weeks of supposed work on this, on Thursday the lead Republicans said "not so fast."
Sen. Rob Portman, the lead GOP negotiator, just told us: “Transit funding has not yet been resolved. And that's important, but if we can't resolve it, then, you know, we could leave that out. I hope not, but Democrats frankly are not being reasonable in their requests right now.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 22, 2021
Transit. It's only an essential, core part of what we like to call "transportation." Portman says Democrats are "not being reasonable." Apparently that's because Democrats want to adhere to existing law under it that says the federal gas tax-funded Highway Trust Fund has to be split 80% for highways and 20% for transit. Republicans want to renege on that, arguing that transit systems already got COVID-19 funding (to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic) and shouldn't get more from this bill.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, chair of the Banking Committee which has jurisdiction over transit, is frustrated. "The Republicans don't have great interest in public transit," he said. "Their proposals are far too inadequate." He added that "there's been a tradition of fairly good public transit funding, but it doesn't seem to be on the table from them yet." Brown continued "I just want to get to an agreement where they take seriously public transit funding, and they haven’t yet." Sen. Jon Tester—a member of that bipartisan gang—was more succinct. "Republicans hate transit, Democrats like transit.[…] It's that simple."
It's not entirely that simple, though, because what this is is another manufactured excuse from Republicans to keep on dragging this thing out. They are also arguing about "broadband, Davis-Bacon requirements, and rescinding unspent COVID funds" according to an aide. So, pretty much all of it? Even if there is a weekend miracle and the gang produces something on Monday, there's no guarantee at all that there will be 10 Republicans interested in voting even to start talking about it next week. If they were that close, they would have agreed to starting the process on Wednesday.
The Democrats in charge of making Biden's plan happen in the Senate are prepared for the contingency of having to fold this "hard" infrastructure piece into the larger budget reconciliation bill that can pass with just Democratic votes, the part of the Biden plan that would transform the lives of millions, in a really good way. They'll vote for this bipartisan thing if it ever happens, though most who aren't in the gang will do so grudgingly because the damned thing has to get done so they can have the good stuff.
That good stuff, chief economist Mark Zandi at Moody's reports "will strengthen long-term economic growth, the benefits of which would mostly accrue to lower- and middle-income Americans." The report also concludes that concerns about inflation that Republicans have been shouting about are "likely misplaced" and "overdone."
"It is a unique opportunity," Zandi told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "The economic environment is ripe for game-changing policies that address long-running, pernicious problems that only government can address, because the scale of the problems is so large." His report says that the failure to pass the bills—the entire $4.1 trillion package either as two bills or combined into one—"would certainly diminish the economy's prospects."
"The nation has long underinvested in both physical and human infrastructure and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences," the report says. "Greater investments in public infrastructure and social programs will lift productivity and labor force growth, and the attention on climate change will help forestall its increasingly corrosive economic effects."
That's critical analysis for the Democrats to keep front and center in this last push to get the job done, to make the bills as expansive as possible (yes, climate change policies, yes expanding health care, yes fixing the safety net, yes education).
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.