Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is demanding that President Joe Biden get Democratic leaders in Congress on board with passing a bipartisan infrastructure compromise agreed to by the president that won't include several of his most ambitious progressive policies.
"The President has appropriately delinked a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the massive, unrelated tax-and-spend plans that Democrats want to pursue on a partisan basis. Now I am calling on President Biden to engage Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and make sure they follow his lead," McConnell said Monday.
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators consisting of five Republicans and five Democrats negotiated a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan that will add $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, and other "hard infrastructure" projects over the next eight years. The compromise did not include trillions of dollars in spending on so-called "human infrastructure" supported by progressives, priorities like free college tuition, government-funded child care, and a national paid leave program.
After the senators met with the president Thursday, Biden agreed to the proposal and proudly proclaimed that Republicans and Democrats had reached a deal, but not before saying he would not sign the deal into law unless Congress also passed a bill with the progressive priorities left out of the compromise.
Republicans were blindsided and outraged by the apparent veto threat, though Democratic leaders in Congress had made clear that a bipartisan bill wouldn't advance unless the big-spending progressive bill passed as well. Because no Senate Republicans support the more progressive bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) intends to attempt to pass it under the budget reconciliation process to circumvent a filibuster attempt by Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) summarized the Democrats' position in a conversation with several members of her conference, saying that "there ain't no infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill." This was essentially a threat to moderate Democrats in the Senate like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), holding the bipartisan infrastructure compromise hostage to get all 50 Senate Democrats to vote for the reconciliation bill, which Manchin has not publicly supported. It was also a challenge to Republicans, who could vote against the bipartisan deal in retaliation for being steamrolled with the reconciliation vote, but would appear to be voting against what Pelosi called "a historic investment in infrastructure."
However, Biden walked back his veto threat Saturday, issuing a statement that acknowledged his previous comments "understandably upset some Republicans, who do not see the two plans as linked."
"My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent," the president said.
Now McConnell wants the president to make Pelosi and Schumer fall in line.
"Unless Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi walk-back their threats that they will refuse to send the president a bipartisan infrastructure bill unless they also separately pass trillions of dollars for unrelated tax hikes, wasteful spending, and Green New Deal socialism, then President Biden's walk-back of his veto threat would be a hollow gesture," McConnell said.
"Republicans have been negotiating in bipartisan good faith to meet the real infrastructure needs of our nation. The President cannot let congressional Democrats hold a bipartisan bill hostage over a separate and partisan process."
So here's the state of play: Biden can convince Democrats to put away their threats and agree to pass the bipartisan compromise with GOP support, ensuring a win for the president and a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending. But doing so without guaranteeing that the reconciliation bill passes as well frees Manchin and other moderate Democrats in the Senate to kill the progressive bill if they decide it spends too much or might be too unpopular in their home states.
Alternatively, Democrats can ignore McConnell and continue holding the bipartisan bill hostage until the reconciliation bill passes the Senate. McConnell made clear, however, that Republicans won't vote for the bipartisan infrastructure deal if Democrats act this way, which would result in Biden taking credit for negotiating a compromise last week only to see his compromise fall apart shortly after.
While the president would lose face, in this scenario Democrats would likely just attach the "hard infrastructure" provisions of the compromise to the reconciliation bill and pass the entire thing without Republican support. Biden won't be able to show voters that he could unify Republicans and Democrats around a compromise bill, but he'd still get all of the infrastructure priorities he wants without giving up any policies to the opposition.