Bipartisanship Meets the Great Wall of Congress

June 9, 2021

What's $700 billion dollars between friends? Too much, Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) decided. The GOP negotiator finally called it quits on her solo talks with President Joe Biden Tuesday after their infrastructure meetings went south. It was the latest chapter in a long and messy saga over an expensive White House proposal that even Democrats are squeamish about. And while Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) has promised a deal by July, no one is quite sure how. "We're running out of time," Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) fumed. But Democrats are running out of something much more important: options.

When the country elected Joe Biden, they didn't give him a blank check to write big checks. And that's what moderate Democrats have been trying to convey to the White House for the last several weeks. Signing the COVID bill was one thing, but signing trillions of dollars more in Leftist programs disguised as "infrastructure" or "child care" isn't governing from the center. Democrats like Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) who had to hold their nose and vote "aye" on $1.9 trillion in virus relief aren't exactly eager to slap their names on another package that Americans have no way of paying for.

Complicating matters, Democrats can't just ram the bill through under budget reconciliation rules like they'd hoped. The chamber's parliamentarian dashed those hopes before Memorial Day when she said that Biden's party would have to pass it through congressional committees and an open amendment process. So, liberals are left with their least favorite option: hammering out a compromise with Republicans who -- to this point -- they've shown no interest in working with.

Even now, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) is urging Democrats to leave the GOP in the dust and find a workaround that would let the Senate pass the package with a simple majority. "In case it wasn't clear already, it certainly is now: Republicans are not going to do what needs to be done... Every day that is wasted trying to get Republicans on board is another day that people can't go back to work because they don't have child care; another day without investing in millions of good, union jobs, another day that we lose further ground on the climate crisis."

Bipartisanship is a "waste," she says. And yet bipartisanship is what the American people want. If they didn't, voters would have sent Democrats to Washington with much bigger majorities. As it is, they'll have a tough time keeping their fragile caucus together for whatever infrastructure plan they can salvage. Even CNN seems to grasp the reality Biden does not. "The push and pull within the diverse Democratic caucus will force leadership to come face to face with their reality that margins are narrow in the House and nonexistent in the Senate. Any bill has to have the blessing of both Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the progressive caucus and the moderate[s]. That's the ball game."

Is that even possible? Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has his doubts. "It's pretty clear the era of bipartisanship is over," he declared Tuesday. But when did it begin, most exasperated conservatives want to know? Joe Biden came to Washington with the goal of "unifying America," and so far, he can't even unify his party. As for negotiating in good faith, the GOP hasn't seen any evidence of that either. "He has never really moved toward us," a frustrated Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters. All he's done is attempt "to satisfy an insatiable far-Left agenda that demands massive tax hikes, and spending trillions of dollars on things unrelated to physical infrastructure."

Just as telling, the Democrats refused to reach across the aisle in good faith on something as harmless as the Paycheck Protection Act. FRC's team uncovered a powder keg of radical social language in the bill's text -- everything from forcing employers to fund abortion, redefine gender, and foot the bill for gender reassignment surgery! Republicans were horrified by the fine print and refused to let Democrats move to a final vote. In a major victory for life and common-sense, the proposal failed 49-50.

Obviously, the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel writes, the president is gambling -- and losing. He's "repeatedly claimed a mandate for action, despite knowing better... The prudent course would have been to govern from the middle, working with Republicans on incremental change." Biden and his party have refused. Now, their risky bet is bombing. They can't seem to "force or cajole every member of their razor-thin majority to adopt one of the most progressive agendas in history." If Biden ends the year without much to show for it, she warns, "it won't be because of parliamentarian rulings or disloyal Democrats. It will be because he dramatically overreached."