Biden's 'mission accomplished' moment

President Biden.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

"We have a deal," President Joe Biden said on Thursday, announcing an agreement between a bipartisan group of senators working on infrastructure legislation. It might just be his "Mission Accomplished" moment.

There are still many moving parts to passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, so it's easy to see how the process could go off the rails. Democratic leaders, including President Biden, have promised the only way they will pass the bipartisan bill is if Congress also passes a second bill for "human infrastructure" using the budget reconciliation process that requires only majority support in the Senate. This includes a lot of stuff — a variety of social welfare and family assistance programs — that was stripped out of Biden's original infrastructure proposal in order to get an agreement with the five Republicans. If all goes as planned, Democrats will get most of what they wanted in the first place.

But there's reason to believe it won't. Already, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has announced his opposition to the proposal. On the Senate side alone, getting the first bill done will take keeping all 50 Democrats together, plus (thanks to the filibuster) 10 Republicans. Just five Republicans were part of the bargaining process, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell implied the two-bill approach would risk Republican cooperation with either part.

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Even if everything comes together, though, you have to wonder what has really been accomplished by this dragged-out dealmaking.

From a left-of-center point-of-view, the Democrats' plan sounds great: There are few things in politics better than having your cake and eating it too. But the effort reveals the essential hollowness of bipartisanship, at least as it is currently practiced. Two months of cross-party bargaining isn't going to change much about the intended end result, which suggests that all the haggling has been about apportioning credit: Both sides score points with the public for cooperation, Republicans get credit with their voters for supporting the parts of the infrastructure bill they like, and Democrats get credit from their supporters for passing the additional parts they want. Everybody gets to be for something.

The process, it turns out, was simply a branding exercise for all parties involved. Maybe there is some value in signaling to Americans that Republicans and Democrats can still work together in our polarized age. But it only works if everything passes, and right now that's far from certain.

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