For a while now, it seemed as if the interminable negotiations over President Biden’s massive infrastructure proposals would come to nothing. Many, myself most definitely included, believed the Republicans would play rope-a-dope with the bill until the August recess, at which point the process would collapse as all congressional eyes turned to the 2022 midterms.
Then, all of a sudden, it happened… or at least some of it did, but we don’t know which parts, because the bill isn’t actually written yet. All we know for sure is that Biden’s proposed $2.2 trillion bill was pared down during Senate negotiations to just $550 billion in new spending, amounting to about a quarter of what was originally proposed.
“Hours after the deal was reached on Wednesday, the Senate voted 67 to 32 to take up the infrastructure bill, as Republicans joined Democrats in clearing the way for action on a crucial piece of President Biden’s agenda,” reports The New York Times. “‘As climate policy, this is an appetizer,’ Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said of the package unveiled on Wednesday. ‘It’s not the main course.’”
Though the details remain sparse, the bill reportedly contains billions in funding for roads and bridges, a significant investment in public transit systems, and billions more invested in rail and freight lines. How this will all be ultimately paid for remains murky, as Senate Republicans successfully killed the part of the bill that would have sought major reforms within the IRS, specifically so that agency would go after rich people who avoid paying their fair share.
Investments in dealing with the effects of climate change were harshly curtailed. The end result of this portion of the process was disappointing for progressives, and the next phase promises to be a wild ride. For one thing, the price tag currently stands at $3.5 trillion. The bill will seek to make up for the lack of climate action in the first bill with a number of dramatic proposals. Finally, portions of the first bill that were deleted — the IRS reform policy, for one example — are expected to be revived in this second bill.
While the first half of Biden’s massive proposal garnered 17 Republican votes to open debate, this second bill is universally expected to have dead bang zero support from the GOP. The Democrats, therefore, will seek to pass the bill by way of reconciliation, which sidesteps the filibuster and requires only a majority to pass. This means Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs to keep all 50 of his people in line for that future vote. Passing this second bill, and filling it with solid fixes for the flaws in the first bill, would be a historic achievement.
So, of course, in parachutes Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. The announcement of a deal had yet to echo off the far wall before Sinema poured battery acid on the prospects for passage of this second portion.
“[W]hile I will support beginning this process,” said Sinema in a written statement, “I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead.”
In the coming months? So much for getting this sucker done at flank speed. Sinema’s announcement earned her high praise from low men such as Minority Leader McConnell. “I was certainly pleased,” said the minority leader after Sinema released her statement. “She is very courageous.” When you’re a Democrat getting this kind of acclaim from that kind of guy, it’s well past time to evaluate the manner in which you operate in the world.
“Sinema seems not to care that her own state is flooding, the West is burning, and infrastructure around the country is crumbling,” said Rep. Rashida Tlaib in response to Sinema’s statement. “Sinema is more interested in gaining GOP friends and blocking much needed resources than fighting for her residents’ future. Time for the White House to play hardball. We didn’t elect Sinema as president and we won’t let her obstruction put a Republican in the Oval Office in 2024. It’s the reconciliation bill or GOP controlling every level of government again, period.”
Other progressives were equally annoyed with the incredibly shrinking nature of these bills, and how environmental protections always seem to wind up on the cutting room floor — to the detriment of all humanity. “Biden and Congress can’t get distracted by this pathetic version of an infrastructure package that only waters down much needed climate priorities, like transit, even further,” said Sunrise Movement Advocacy Director Lauren Manus. “The climate crisis is here — and we see it every day with fatal heat waves, monsoons, and wildfires.”
Some have counseled that ignoring Sinema is the wisest move at present. “She wants to come out of this as the person who wasn’t totally down with Democratic priorities and shaved the numbers down, at least a bit,” writes Josh Marshall for Talking Points Memo. “If she really wanted to stop the process, she wouldn’t vote to let it begin, which she is. That tells you the story.”
Maybe. Or maybe Sinema saw those 17 Republican votes and chose to take the ride, with the option for disruption still very much in hand. In any event, it was a strange conclusion to a laborious process, made all the stranger because it’s really just the beginning. If Schumer can’t keep Sinema and the other 49 Democrats in line for reconciliation, the second half of this legislation could wind up either being smaller than the first, or defeated altogether… and if the climate is left out of the final product, that defeat could, justifiably, come at the hands of the House Progressive Caucus.