Home Uncategorized Column: Could it be? Infrastructure tumult shows Washington is on the mend

Column: Could it be? Infrastructure tumult shows Washington is on the mend

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The ongoing infrastructure drama in Washington is a perfect illustration of how, when dysfunction becomes normal, normal politics seem dysfunctional.

Let’s set the context.

For most of American history, major laws found their way into the congressional committee system. The negotiation, registration and establishment of the agenda would take place during months of negotiations led by the chairmen of the committees. Similar “regular order“It has withered over the past two decades, replaced by what is now called” party rule, “where the leaders – the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, and the President – run everything.

This, in turn, is the reason why the nature of the work of senators and rank-and-file representatives has changed. Rather than legislating, the path to attention and influence runs through cable TV studios and social media, where the groundwork is laid for putting pressure on leadership.

That’s the backdrop to the infrastructure fuss.

It’s popular to spend money on things like roads, bridges, sewers, as well as more modern things like electric car charging stations and 5G networks. That’s in part why a group of 21 senators, 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, and an independent, agreed a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week. (Another reason they are willing to play together is to take pressure off the push to repeal obstructionism.)

The popularity of infrastructure is also why progressive Democrats call $ 6 trillion of additional spending – on social services and Green New Deal “transformative” projects – “human infrastructure.”

It’s like one of those game shows where you can put as many things as possible in a shopping cart. As long as progressives can claim that their wish list fits into the infrastructure cart, they believe they can make it happen. But if moderates fill a cart with just the traditional stuff, it will be infinitely more difficult for Democrats to claim that a second cart is available. Really infrastructure, regardless of terminology.

Last week, President Biden hailed the moderates’ infrastructure deal as precisely the kind of bipartisan compromise for which he was elected. And then shortly thereafter, he intervened by announcing that he would not sign the compromise agreement unless Congress approved the human infrastructure as well. Republicans launched an attack saying, correctly, that such a “bond” was never part of the deal.

One last bit of context: No Republican will vote for human infrastructure legislation. So for it to pass, Democrats would have to use the arcane reconciliation process, which is not subject to obstructionism. But all 50 Senate Democrats would have to vote in favor. Progressives worry that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin or Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, or other moderate Democrats, may resist the $ 6 billion wish list. So progressives want to hold traditional infrastructure spending hostage to their “once in a generation” grip on the bronze ring.

The White House spent the last few days cleaning up the mess. Biden now says, emphatically, that he will sign the bipartisan compromise legislation.

The conversation about all of this has followed a now familiar script of a Democratic president dealing with complaining and obstructionist Republicans. And there is enough of that to make it plausible.

But the most important dynamic is what is happening with the Democrats. Moderate Democrats understand that funding traditional infrastructure helps them and the party, but an unprecedented wave of massive spending on non-traditional things could put them in jeopardy. Republicans may have seized the limelight by crying badly, but it was the revolt by moderate Democrats that forced Biden to back down.

All the attention on the “conservative” and “stubborn” Manchin has obscured the fact that he is interfering in favor of other Democrats who are uncomfortable with the campaign over spending that could easily be caricatured as socialism Bernie Sanders / Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, who are also squeamish about abolishing the filibuster. The jostling of the past week is due to the fact that progressives do not confidence the moderates to endorse a progressive agenda, and the Republicans do not trust them not to.

It adds to this: Given a 50-50 Senate, the moderates, particularly the moderate Democrats, are the most powerful bloc in government. And you know what? That’s the old normal.

This is difficult to understand given the decades of party rule where all significant congressional action occurred largely along party lines. But from where I’m sitting, the apparent chaos is welcome because it shows that on some issues, at least, neither the Democrats nor the Republican Party can make a strict party government work. Perhaps Washington is healing.

@JonahDispatch

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