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It’s Time for Democrats to Go It Alone on Infrastructure

So long as the minority leader is allowed to keep “negotiating,” the American people and the country will keep losing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes his way to a Senate Republican Policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on May 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Come, friends, let us step inside the moldy brain bucket of Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. Here in the gloom is a table, and upon that table a single sheet of paper carrying three short words: GIVE BIDEN NOTHING.

Nothing shocking, really — merely the 2.0 upgrade of the plan McConnell established after President Barack Obama was sworn into office twelve years ago. This age of unreason was not born then, but it fed well on the years of lies and distortions necessarily conjured to obstruct and derail all progress for anyone not included in the GOP’s priorities. Our modern crop of “theories” about stolen elections, phantom Capitol riots and satanic pedophilic Democrats and their Hollywood allies in the pizza shops was well fertilized by McConnell’s fueling of anti-Obama rumors and conspiracies on the right.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing new here. The press kept waiting for Donald Trump to “grow” into the job of president, failing time and again to realize this was it: He did it like this yesterday, he did it again today, and he will do it again tomorrow. McConnell is a parallel phenomenon.

The minority leader, as majority leader, was institutionally devoted to elevating the fringe and violent right if it disrupted Democratic governance. He helped turn the mayhem of the Tea Party into a congressional caucus that could throw weight, assisted in several government shutdowns and other acts of disastrous political disruption, and made the use of the filibuster a permanent daily event.

It didn’t take four years to realize Trump wasn’t going to change. What in the last 13 years, has McConnell done to disabuse anyone of the notion that he is precisely the same wrecker he was in 2008, and even well before? Answer: Nothing. Yet here sit the Democrats, “negotiating” with a man who sees negotiation only as an opportunity to run down the clock … and to fundraise on how he and his people are standing against socialism, or whatever the slogan happens to be this week.

McConnell will never allow his Senate caucus to support a major Biden initiative. If the Democrats returned to the table with an offer to cut the spending on that bill down to 19 cents and an eraserless pencil, McConnell would take to the floor and announce he was studying the proposal. Days would go by as he laughed into his sleeve, until he’d finally fling the whole thing back at the Democrats because the 19 cents weren’t budget-neutral and the pencil was made in China.

The cost doesn’t matter. McConnell will not permit Biden any further victories after the American Rescue Plan if he can possibly help it, and so long as the filibuster exists, he has a powerful tool to thwart it.

Bundled up in all this, as ever, is Trump. McConnell wants his majority seat back, and he wants a compliant GOP majority in the House. He cannot have these things without Trump, or more specifically, if he gets crossways with Trump and becomes the newest target for the 45th president’s sustained wrath. After January 6, McConnell was about as harsh as he could manage regarding Trump’s complicity, and was called “a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” for his trouble, before being warned by Trump that “they will not win again” without him.

McConnell heard that loud and clear, and while the Cold War between the minority leader and the 45th president continues, it has not gotten worse. If McConnell starts cutting deals with Biden and the Democrats, Trump will come down the mountain to make war on “Republicans In Name Only,” and a great many people will follow him. It will be Gettysburg and Krakatoa at once, but louder, for the GOP.

Signs that the Biden administration realizes McConnell is merely playing out the string have begun to emerge. “We’re too far apart. Because I think Mitch’s ultimate purpose is not compromise but delay and mischief,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse this week. The Democratic senator from Rhode Island went on to say that the president is “entitled to his judgment on this. but if I were in a room with him, I’d say it’s time to move on.”

“White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the next move is up to Republicans and the White House is ‘not quite there’ at bailing on the talks,” reports Politico. “The main holdups are moderate Democrats, who are signaling they still aren’t quite ready to go it alone on a massive new spending bill, ensuring the plodding talks continue for at least a few more days.”

A few days. OK, then, that should leave Biden and the Democrats plenty of time to brush up on Rule 304, which I described in detail back in early April:

President Biden and Schumer got the first one across the goal line — the American Rescue Plan — and going forward, so long as they affect the budget somehow and stay within parliamentary lines, vast new pieces of legislation can be passed simply by labeling them as “amendments” to the bill that’s already done.

Take Biden’s pending massive multitrillion-dollar proposal for infrastructure reform and repair, called Build Back Better (BBB). Before the advent of Rule 304, and after the passage of the American Rescue Plan, getting infrastructure through this Senate was going to be like rolling blood up a sandy hill in the rain pretty much forever.

Beyond the fact that 10 Republicans would leap from the Capitol dome before voting to give Biden a legislative win, “centrist” Democrats like Joe Manchin would be ever circling, like sharks looking to take bites out of the prize. With 304? All they have to worry about is Manchin and his cohort, and they are manageable.

I love theater as much as anyone else, and these infrastructure “negotiations” have been fine grist for the press mill. The clock is running, however, and President Biden’s dance card is filling rapidly with issues far more dire and pressing than how grateful everyone is that he isn’t Trump. So long as the minority leader is allowed to keep “negotiating,” the American people and the country will keep losing.

Senate Ds are now unlikely to try using the FY 2021 budget resolution to put together another reconciliation package, according to three sources close to the issue,” the Punchbowl political blog reported on Tuesday morning. According to InfoWire, “Democratic leaders privately say they don’t believe they can finish work by the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30.”

That is not “a few more days,” and would represent yet another calamitous retreat on the part of Democrats. The Senate parliamentarian has approved the use of Rule 304 on as many as six additional pieces of legislation, all of which can be amendments to the ARP. Not one single Republican vote would be required, and if even some of Biden’s major agenda pieces are realized, the tea leaves for 2022 would be blowin’ in the wind. It’s time to step on the gas.

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