Talking Points

It's do or die time for the Democrats on infrastructure

Much to the surprise of many, it appears President Biden and members of Congress have come to a bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure package. The details of the plan have not yet been released, but it is widely expected to be pretty bad from progressives' point of view — probably with some privatization of assets, highway funding paid for with regressive user fees, and so forth.

However, that's not the end of the story. The rest of the Democratic Party is demanding another infrastructure bill, this one passed through the reconciliation process so it cannot be filibustered by Senate Republicans. As Greg Sargent writes at The Washington Post, the idea is to go through with a bipartisan deal to appease moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and then have Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) pass the rest of the party's agenda with a reconciliation bill organized by the Senate Budget Committee (which he chairs).

More progressive Democrats in the House and Senate naturally fear that once the meager bipartisan package passes, moderates will refuse to pass anything else. Therefore on Thursday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promised she will not pass the bipartisan deal unless the reconciliation bill gets out of the Senate first, and that afternoon Biden promised the same thing. That way there would be no possibility of Senate moderates backtracking at the last second.

It is crunch time for the Democrats. Doing something big on infrastructure that tackles climate change is co-equal with voting rights protections in terms of vital priorities. This plan could theoretically work, and party leaders seem confident it can happen. But the margin for error is small — just one defection in the Senate, and the whole thing falls apart. Or if Pelosi does not hold the line, the inadequate bipartisan plan will be all the party gets. Time will tell!