“The bill, H.R. 3684 (117), is historic in its scope with $550 billion in new money funneled into hard infrastructure, from overhauling bridges to supercharging Amtrak’s most popular rail corridor in the Northeast. But it falls far short of Biden’s original vision, which promised to dramatically reduce the climate impacts of transportation, the single largest source of pollution. In the end, the final product was the victim of the bipartisan focus it took to get the bill done and is an example of the razor thin governing majority Democrats must navigate.”
“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”
” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”
“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.
It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”
“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”
“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.
To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.
Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”
“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”
“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.
To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”
“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the legislature’s nonpartisan number-crunching agency, says the bipartisan infrastructure bill would add about $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years. The real figure is likely to be higher, because the package contains a few gimmicky elements that are designed to trick the CBO’s forecasting metrics.
The biggest of those gimmicks is the promise that Congress will reallocate more than $200 billion of COVID relief funds to cover infrastructure costs. It remains unclear exactly what unused COVID funds will be redirected, and the bill only rescinds $50 billion in actual budget authority from previously passed COVID relief bills, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).
Other proposals to save and redirect federal dollars to pay for the infrastructure bill are also unlikely to materialize. Take the $49 billion lawmakers plan to “save” by further delaying an already-delayed Trump administration regulation altering how prescription drug discounts are applied by health insurers. “Because the Congressional Budget Office projected that the so-called rebate rule would increase federal spending in Medicare and Medicaid by about $177 billion over a decade, due to a rise in Medicare premiums (and therefore, taxpayer-funded subsidies for Medicare premiums), lawmakers get to count a further delay in the rule (beyond the Biden administration’s one-year delay) as ‘savings’ for the federal government,” explains the National Taxpayers Union.”
“When you filter out the gimmicks designed to game the CBO score of the infrastructure bill, the CRFB says the package will probably add $340 billion to the deficit over 10 years.”
“But as the CBO’s report makes clear, actually paying for the infrastructure makes those benefits bigger than they otherwise would be. A fully offset infrastructure package would boost GDP by an estimated 0.11 percent over the next 30 years while a deficit-financed package would barely break even. That’s because, as the CRFB notes, running higher deficits to pay for infrastructure spending will reduce private investment over the long term and, thus, lower future economic growth as well.”
“voters like bipartisanship more in theory than in practice. But that doesn’t mean bipartisan support isn’t still important politically. Voters may prefer more partisan policy results, but their stated desire for bipartisanship means that politicians can still benefit by at least trying to work together.”
“So far, Democrats and Republicans have made some headway on the bipartisan deal. They have agreed to a very vague framework that includes funding for roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric vehicle infrastructure, clean drinking water, and broadband internet, among a few other areas. The agreement goes into almost no detail beyond those broad categories — with lawmakers now working to get more specific as they transform that framework into actual legislation.
Where both sides haven’t reached any agreement yet is how all of this will be paid for. Democrats want to pay for it largely by undoing parts of former President Donald Trump’s tax law, while Republicans suggested raising the gas tax and electric vehicle charging fees. With both sides rejecting each other’s ideas, they instead put out a list of potential revenue sources, ranging from stronger enforcement of current tax laws to spending caps to public-private partnerships. But the sides haven’t reached any concrete agreements here, and all of these ideas may not even be enough to fund the full bill.
Democrats have also promised to pass an additional infrastructure bill through reconciliation (to bypass the filibuster on a party-line vote). This bill would aim to fill in the other parts of Biden’s agenda left out of the bipartisan deal, including broader action on climate change and “human infrastructure” measures like an expanded child tax credit and elder care.
But the party hasn’t come to an agreement on this measure. Manchin suggested the bill could be as little as $2 trillion, while Sanders has worked on a $6 trillion proposal. There is, suffice to say, a very wide space in between.
In short: A lot is up in the air. The specific details are still being worked out. It’s not clear if any of this will happen.”