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The Democrats' infrastructure game actually seems to be working

Earlier this summer, Democrats announced that they would be making a detour in what they call a "two-pronged" plan in their efforts to approve large new infrastructure funding.

In fact, they planned to do two things in parallel: work on a bipartisan infrastructure bill that included provisions that Republicans and Democrats had agreed on (like money for roads and bridges) and use a special budget reconciliation process to justify priorities Support the Democrats to adopt, such as expanding child discounts and a payment program designed to incentivize the use of clean energy.

It was a pretty risky approach, considering how many things could have gone wrong, from moderate Democrats derailing the process to spending concerns to Republicans refusing to vote for a bipartisan precursor to a partisan policy move.

So far, however, the Senate has managed to keep things going on both tracks, a sign that this approach might work after all. This was a difficult balancing act – one that required Democrats to scale back their ambitions to more traditional infrastructure and accept Republicans to add about $ 250 billion to the federal deficit over a decade.

Those compromises, the result of weeks of negotiations, led to remarkable advances in the Senate this week: Legislators voted 69-30 in favor of a $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan proposal to finance roads, bridges, and transit Includes water infrastructure. In addition, the Democrats passed a $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution – a blueprint for a law of reconciliation – that includes extensive care regulations and climate policies.

These victories are the result of a number of factors coming together in infrastructure, an issue that has long had strong bipartisan support from both voters and lawmakers. It is clear that some Republicans saw the bipartisan law as a tangible asset to point out to their voters and decided to support the legislation rather than hinder it. The Democrats also managed to appease moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) by spending time on bipartisan action, and ultimately earned their support for the more partisan reconciliation solution.

The Democrats have brought together the moderates in their party and the Republicans in the Senate to move the infrastructure bill forward.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

"When you're a Republican, you want to prove that you're not just here to completely block and stop the entire agenda," said Senator John Thune (R-SD), a senior Senate Republican, Eli. from the Los Angeles Times Stokols and Jen Haberkorn. "It might be good for the administration and they probably need a win right now, but I also think members on both sides have political advantages."

Much can go wrong before either of these bills becomes law: both houses must draft the $ 3.5 trillion budget, and the House of Representatives must consider both measures. In the House and Senate, in particular, the next steps towards reconciliation will be tumultuous, with democratic progressives and moderates expected to have a meaningful debate about which provisions will be included in the bill.

But this week's Senate votes mark an important and somewhat surprising step forward.

Patience, public pressure and luck have meant that infrastructure negotiations for the Democrats have gone well so far

In July, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stated his plan was to vote on the bipartisan bill and budget before the Senate left for its annual break in mid-August. The Upper Chamber was able to move things forward on both points, an important step forward when you consider how much uncertainty there was about both tracks.

Republicans and Democrats announced last week a bipartisan agreement that includes $ 550 billion in new spending, totaling $ 1.2 trillion on what lawmakers call "hard" infrastructure. This agreement is the result of weeks of negotiations between a bipartisan group of around 10 senators, including Rob Portman (R-OH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). . The effort was also bolstered by President Joe Biden, who is one of the vocal advocates of non-partisanship and who played a vital role in promoting that effort.

Biden's statements about the law were critical to moving it forward. When the president met with lawmakers in June, he pledged that he would not press for physical infrastructure funding to be included in the Democratic Reconciliation Act, which was not included in the bipartisan law.

As reported by Politico's Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine, this position helped allay some of the concerns expressed by Republican senators that the Democrats would agree to any cuts needed to get GOP support before cutting anything later was passed as part of the reconciliation process, for which only a Senate is required by a majority. Taking Biden at his word that what was struck out of the bill was gone forever allowed many Republicans to support the bipartisan bill, according to Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT).

In the end, 19 Republicans, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, voted for the bipartisan bill, a rare indication of support for the GOP in a typically polarized upper chamber. Although some less prominent bills like updates to the paycheck protection program and anti-Asian hate crime condemnation laws were passed bipartisan, the Democrats previously passed their larger pandemic stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan, by party lines. Republican support on other issues such as gun control and voting rights has also failed to materialize.

In contrast to these measures, the infrastructure package had a few other benefits beyond Biden's influence, including that it has long been a primary target of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – and that the polls around it show solid support.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell returns to his office after the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill is finally passed from the Senate Chamber.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

For example, in an AP / NORC poll in July, 59 percent of Americans (including 50 percent Republicans and 69 percent Democrats) named infrastructure a top priority for policy makers. When it came to funding roads, bridges, and ports, 83 percent of all respondents said they support it, including 79 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats.

"The fact is, the American public, including the vast majority of Republicans, is very supportive of this," said Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), a Republican who supported the law, in a Fox News interview.

The bipartisan package also brings funds for projects in every federal state. This will allow both Democratic and Republican incumbents to point out specific investments that would bring their constituents from broadband to public transportation. And as Thune alluded to in his comments to the Los Angeles Times, some Republicans are using this law to demonstrate that they are not only capable of obstructing.

Other calculations may also play a role: for example, Jonathan Chait of New Yorker Magazine has theorized that the decision to support the Infrastructure Bill is a way for Republicans to defuse some of the arguments about getting rid of the filibuster, as it shows That it Legislation is still able to get through with bipartisan support. Republicans – currently in the Senate minority – have passionately supported the rule that requires 60 senators to pass laws if blocked, while many Democrats had advocated getting rid of it, claiming that Republicans would never agree Democrats work together on some key priorities.

However, Republican support is not expected on other, more contentious issues such as voting rights or immigration reform. In some ways, the bipartisan appeal of the infrastructure is unique: "Advisors say (McConnell) … regards them as less ideological than other Democratic priorities," Politico's Everett and LeVine previously reported.

It's also important to remember that the two-pronged strategy was designed not only to keep Republicans happy, but also to keep Democrats together.

Earlier, Manchin had said he would not consider a unilateral democratic infrastructure law without trying a bipartisan option. After the bipartisan law endeavor, he later found that he would be willing to incorporate other provisions through reconciliation. In essence, the Democrats were able to maintain unity, in part because of the two-pronged strategy. (For Democrats in swing states, this bill could also come in handy when it comes to the 2022 midterm elections, if it could help them appeal to more moderate and independent voters.)

Democrats also see budget balancing as a way to set additional priorities, as anything passed this way doesn't require Republican votes. While lawmakers have made some major cuts to physical infrastructure, this two-pronged approach has allowed Democrats to advocate non-partisanship while pursuing more ambitious ideas.

Early Wednesday morning, the Democrats put forward the $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution by 50-49 votes. As Andrew Prokop of Vox reported, this move involves a major expansion of the social safety net, including funding for Pre-K, two years of free community college, and paid family and sick leave.

For the two-pronged strategy to be successful, the Democrats must find ways to hold their group together

However, it is still too early to declare the two-track strategy a complete success, as neither the bipartisan deal nor the budget are nor the law. And the Democrats face an immediate challenge: determining which provisions will be included in the final budget reconciliation law.

The first hurdle is that only provisions that affect the state budget can be passed through reconciliation. There is some flexibility in terms of the budgetary impact – opening up oil wells at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge previously cut the cut – but ultimately what can and cannot be included in the bill will depend on the Senate's ruling .

This means that some democratic priorities – such as B. Immigration-related principles that would give some undocumented immigrants a route to citizenship – may not be allowed. For example, the MP had previously decided that a minimum wage of $ 15 could not be passed through budget balancing.

The second problem is that regulations that bypass parliament then require the approval of the entire Democratic faction in the Senate, as well as the support of the majority of the House of Representatives, which is likely to be difficult. The moderates have made it clear that they want a tighter package and the progressives want a more generous one. Sinema and Manchin have already spoken out against the $ 3.5 trillion in the bill, and it is still unclear how far Manchin is willing to go on environmental precautions. Difficult compromises like those made to bring the bipartisan agreement together may be necessary.

President Biden invited a bipartisan group of 21 senators to discuss the infrastructure plan at the White House on June 24th.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

"I also made it clear that while I will support the start of this process, I will not support $ 3.5 trillion bill – and in the coming months I will work in good faith to get this legislation through with my colleagues and the administration." empower them to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families move forward, ”Sinema said earlier in a statement. That was reiterated on Wednesday by Manchin, who in a statement said he had “serious concerns” about the cost of the bill, adding, “I firmly believe that irresponsible spending continues to jeopardize our nation's ability to cope with unforeseen crises to which our country could be exposed. "

The third problem is timing. After the Senate has passed the Budget Reconciliation Act, the House of Representatives will vote on both the bipartisan bill and the budget measure. Progressives are calling on spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi to ensure that the votes on the two measures stay linked to put pressure on moderates to support both, while more moderate members have urged the lower chamber to adopt the bipartisan bill first as it has already been finalized is . The legislature will not have pulled through the two-pronged infrastructure plan until the House has approved both bills and sent them to Biden's desk.

Hence the progress made by the Senate on both fronts is remarkable, but far from the end point that will make this policy a reality.

Update, August 11th, 12 noon: This story has been updated with Senator Joe Manchin's statement that he has "serious concerns" that a budget of $ 3.5 trillion would be too expensive.

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