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Senate passes bipartisan infrastructure bill

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The president will not be able to celebrate bipartisan approval of an infrastructure bill by the Senate until Democrats deliver the rest of their economic agenda this fall.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters; Joe Raedle / Getty

TThe moment the mallet came down Following the Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act today, the bipartisan bill began a new life as a 2,700-page legislative hostage.

For President Joe Biden, securing the votes of more than a dozen Senate Republicans on one of his top legislative priorities is an achievement many doubted was possible. However, if that infrastructure bill ever makes it to your desk, it now depends on the outcome of a negotiation that can prove almost as complicated: unifying the sniper factions of the Democratic Party.

Under pressure from progressives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to shelve the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill until Senate Democrats, using a budget process that circumvents Republican obstructionism, follow through on their pledge. to pass a much more ambitious $ 3.5 billion package to expand social programs. and tackling climate change. Because Republicans are likely to oppose that second bill unanimously, Democrats will need the votes of all 50 senators (plus a runoff from Vice President Kamala Harris) and nearly all of their slim majority in the House. That means finding a compromise that can win the backing of moderate Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, as well as leftists, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Senate Democrats are expected to act quickly to advance that bill’s plan in the coming days, before leaving Washington, DC, for the remainder of August. But current legislation — the essential policy details translated into thousands of pages of text — probably won’t be ready before the fall; Until then, the recently passed infrastructure bill will gather dust. At the moment, Democrats only have a superficial unit in their budget. At the core of the plan is a collection of long-sought progressive priorities, including paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten, free community college, new investments in green technology, and a modest expansion of Medicare and other federal health care programs. But the big questions remain unanswered: How intensely will the bill combat climate change? How long will these new programs, as well as the previously enacted expanded child tax credit, be funded? Will Democrats be able to include immigration provisions to protect dreamers and other undocumented people? Whose taxes will go up to pay for everything and by how much?

Ya Manchin, representing the conservative coal country, has said it is “concerned” by elements of the proposals to combat climate change. Meanwhile, Sinema has flatly said that it will not support a final package that costs $ 3.5 billion, leading to a tweeted reply Ocasio-Cortez and a not-too-subtle threat to remove the bipartisan bill the senator so carefully helped negotiate. House moderates are demanding that Pelosi introduce the bipartisan bill immediately, warning her not to take her support for a second package for granted. The ideological divide aside, high-ranking Democrats like Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the irritable chair of the transportation and infrastructure committee, complain that the bipartisan bill is insufficient and an invasion of their political turf. All the disputes highlight how risky Biden’s gamble remains: If Sinema and other moderates reject the $ 3.5 trillion bill in the Senate, Democrats could reject the bipartisan bill in the House and the president could. left with nothing.

For Biden, the good news is that he is a president particularly well prepared to land on the sweet spot for his party. If he had a singular talent throughout nearly half a century in elected office, it was in finding the political center, not necessarily of the country as a whole, but of the Democratic Party. Biden has shifted with the Democrats over the years, usually to the left, but rarely with a jolt, so wherever the party’s mainstream is, that’s where it’s swimming. He did it skillfully enough to win the nomination against younger, more progressive candidates. But he has also demonstrated that skill as president, winning approval for a $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package in party line voting this spring.

The president also benefits from the unity of mission among the Democrats. Until recently, it was a question mark whether Republicans really wanted an infrastructure bill to become law, but there seems to be little doubt, at least for the moment, that virtually the entire Democratic Party in Congress is committed. with the success of the larger reconciliation package. . The party knows it is a loser to keep its majorities in next year’s midterm elections, and a cascading failure in which both the budget package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill fall short would be devastating to that effort. Desperation to avoid that kind of embarrassment is part of what led Democrats to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010 after the loss of a crucial Senate seat in Massachusetts. Your legislative proposals now are more popular with the audience.

In the days after the initial announcement of a bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate, Biden, to prevent Republicans from fleeing, had to issue a statement saying approval of the deal was not tied to approval of the broader Democratic agenda. The president’s guarantee was written, not recorded, or you may have seen him wink. Now that he has the Republican votes in hand, Biden can dispense with those niceties. The infrastructure bill may be held hostage, but the Republican Party can no longer touch it, nor can it stop the much more transformative package that Biden seeks. The president only needs his own party, a much friendlier negotiating partner, to accomplish both.

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