President Joe Biden seems like he might be serious about striking a bipartisan infrastructure deal. He is reportedly willing to come down to $1 trillion in new spending on the package and at least temporarily shelve his plans to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent in order to pay for it. Republicans have balked at the tax hike and their counteroffer clocks in at $928 billion, though with only $250 billion in new spending the two sides remain far apart.
Still, this is further than Biden went in the aborted talks to find a stimulus compromise earlier this year. After some perfunctatory negotiations with Republicans, Democrats ended up passing the $1.9 trillion bill along straight party lines. On this issue as well, the two sides began hundreds of billions of dollars apart, in total disagreement over how to pay for it, and adhering even to different definitions of what constitutes "infrastructure" in the first place. Yet they're still talking.
The Senate parliamentarian may have kept the lines open. Democrats will only be able to use reconciliation, a budgetary tool that allows them to bypass the filibuster and therefore Republican votes, once this year. Unlike other things Biden wants to do, infrastructure is something that could get Republican votes. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginian leading the negotiations on the GOP side, appears to want a bill.
There are still plenty of obstacles to a compromise. One of them is the progressive wing of Biden's own party. To them, the White House's initial proposal was the compromise. They would prefer that Biden go it alone rather than tax and spend less. They believe he can capitalize on unified Democratic control and with the midterm elections fast approaching — the party's majorities are razor-thin — it is unclear when the opportunity will arise again.
Part of this is a dilemma of Biden's own making. He ran simultaneously as a bipartisan deal-maker, in order to win the suburbs, and a progressive, to coax Bernie Sanders voters to the polls. It is hard to deliver on both.
Biden's bet is that liberals won't actually block a slimmer infrastructure package if he can get the Republicans to agree to one. And if he can't get it done with the GOP, the left is still ready to turn on the federal spending spigots and Democrats own infrastructure in the midterms. Infrastructure Week, indeed.