Two weeks ago, members of Congress left Washington to return to their home states. In the news vacuum, the Biden administration unveiled arguably the most expensive infrastructure plan in American history.
President Biden has a lot riding on this plan. Most presidents put a lot of irons in the fire in their first 100 days, hoping for a flurry of accomplishments. But Biden isn’t, even with a rare majority in both chambers.
After passing an ambitious COVID stimulus bill, Biden has made it clear that he is now focusing on infrastructure. Indeed, Biden and the Senate have effectively cleared their plate for this single item from now until September, when the Senate, they hope, will try to pass it under the rules of a budget reconciliation process that will only require 51 votes and not the 60 usually needed to prevent a filibuster.
But to even get there, Biden’s bill has to first survive the opposition that is sure to emerge this week.
To be clear, there is a lot of support for such an infrastructure bill. Investing in deteriorating roads and bridges is not just overdue to avoid tragedy, but could also help inject millions of jobs into the economy.
Polls suggest broad support for Biden’s plan, even among Republican voters. Remember: Going big on infrastructure was an initiative of Donald Trump, too, no matter how elusive the goal ended up being for the former president.
But Biden is introducing his plan into a legislative climate that is harsher than the one Trump faced. Whereas Trump would have had at least some bipartisan support, Biden appears to have zero Republican votes for this bill right now.
Yes, Democrats control Congress — but they control it by the slimmest of margins. The Senate is literally deadlocked, with Vice President Harris serving as tie-breaker. At the moment, Democrats only have a seven-seat majority in the House, following the death of Florida Representative Alcee Hastings last week.
In other words, everything has to go perfectly in order for a bill to pass. With Congress back in session this week, we are about to find out just how imperfect things may be.
Biden’s transportation bill is facing doubts on all sides. Republicans are steadfast against it. Progressives say the $2 trillion bill still isn’t big enough to do the once-in-a-generation upgrades the country needs. Moderates are less concerned about the price tag than the significant corporate business tax hikes that will be required to pay for it.
For example, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate, has already said he cannot support the level of corporate tax increases needed for Biden’s plan. If he holds firm on that stance, the bill isn’t passing.
And if the bill isn’t passing then everyone will want a say in a new bill. This might be smart politics by Biden in that it might be the only way for him to bring everyone to the table and get something done. At the same time, this is often how big bills die: under the weight of competing factions from across the political spectrum.
Here’s one example: If Manchin lowers the size of tax increases, that likely means fewer projects. One of the first cuts may be the extension of Amtrak to Rockland, Maine, a town of 7,200 people. And if that happens, you can kiss goodbye any chance at getting support from Maine Senator Susan Collins, a key swing Republican vote in the Senate.
This domino effect could play out across the country; Liberal Democrats from New England could even threaten to vote against the bill if their parochial interests aren’t fully funded. And even if they’re ultimately posturing, the lack of support may prevent the bill from ever reaching the floor, particularly when there are other Democratic priorities like gun control, police reform, and voting rights to take up.
The Biden administration has been smart in its rollout, flooding the zone in local media markets with details about the positives behind the bill. But now that Congress is back in town, members will face pressure to pick a side. And this is where you’ll see the fault lines in Biden’s proposal quickly begin to emerge.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.