US President Biden has started his term in office with verve, but now he threatens to get stuck in the small and small of Washington. A dispute about an infrastructure package has been simmering for weeks. Now an agreement is on the horizon – which could be tricky for Biden.
Washington hints at what some no longer thought possible: an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on an important and expensive matter. We are talking about the infrastructure package that the Biden government has launched, but which it hardly gets through the Senate without the approval of the opposition. But now a group of senators from both parties has announced that key points have been agreed. The agreement is not yet secured, but after weeks of negotiations one can already speak of a breakthrough.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the president’s staff had “two productive meetings” with a group of senators from both parties and that progress had been made towards an agreement. President Joe Biden invited the group to the White House to discuss it personally. The New York Times quoted White House staff as saying that Biden was ready to support the draft as soon as the details were in. And Democratic Senator Mark Warner told the paper, “We wouldn’t go to the White House if we didn’t think the package had broad support”.
The infrastructure package is important to the success of the Biden presidency for two reasons. First of all, it is necessary – thousands of roads, bridges, airports, water and power lines are in need of renovation and too little has happened in this area for too long. An agreement would therefore be a success for Biden and the Democrats, with which they could score points with voters in the midterm elections in autumn 2022 (“Midterms”). The entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be newly elected.
Biden wants to be non-partisan
Since many voters consciously or unconsciously blame the president for everything that goes well or badly, this is an opportunity for Biden. Whenever a renovated bridge was opened, it would be: Financed from Biden’s infrastructure package. That would give the Democrats much-needed tailwind that they could use in the midterms. In the past few decades, the incumbent president’s party has almost always lost the majority in at least one of the two chambers of congress – and that is already razor-thin.
The other reason Biden would benefit from a deal with the Republicans is because of a different campaign promise from the president. Biden had vowed to be a non-partisan president and to shake hands with Republicans. However, he immediately pushed through his first major bill, the corona aid package worth 1.9 trillion dollars, via so-called reconciliation – a seldom used procedure in which you only need a simple majority in the Senate to win a vote – and thus past the Republicans.
They immediately thought that it wasn’t that far away with Biden’s promise. So if he does manage to get a large package through Congress by mutual agreement, he would have delivered in this area as well. Infrastructure is ideal for this, because everyone should have an interest in intact bridges and roads. But that was exactly where the problem was so far. In their first $ 2.3 trillion draft, the Democrats included not only such classic infrastructure, but also a number of measures against climate change and so-called “human infrastructure”.
Party left puts pressure
Behind this are investments in childcare, public universities or sick pay – something the Republicans flatly rejected. There was also a dispute about climate protection measures. The “New York Times” therefore also expects that these items will be largely canceled and that the package will only be worth $ 1.3 trillion in the end. There is of course a particularly passionate discussion about how all of this should be paid for. The Democrats want to raise taxes for top earners and make tax investigations more efficient, the Republicans are strictly against tax increases.
But an agreement with the Republicans would also have its pitfalls. First of all, they could also use it to campaign under the motto: Without us, the package would not have existed. You could also claim to have pushed back the “human infrastructure”. But there could also be problems in our own ranks. Because Biden’s compromise package could cause disappointment among the party left. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders recently said that he would only agree to this compromise if a further package with the measures that are likely to be canceled were also launched. This should then be pushed through again via the reconciliation process. So everyone pulls on the duvet and someone always gets cold feet.
There is a third reason why a non-partisan package would be a success for Biden – and that has to do with Donald Trump. He haunts the political landscape like a ghost and is openly toying with a renewed candidacy in 2024. As a businessman, he always campaigned to get things settled on which professional politicians fail because Washington doesn’t get anything done in his portrayal. Despite his meager record as president, that message still resonates with many Republicans. This is another reason why it would be important for Biden and the Democrats to prove the opposite. If that didn’t even work with the infrastructure, things would actually look bleak.