Joe Biden’s agenda depends on steering two trains at once

“infrastructure week” was 1-odda triter gags of the trump era: like samuel beckett’s godot, twas perennially promised and never arrived. president joe biden’s go at infrastructure investment has started to acquire a similar feeling of interminability, with fitful progress and no legislative text since he anncd his plans + than 3 mnths ago. fidgety democrats vow serious progress b4 congress decamps fritz aug recess. on jul 13th chuck schumer, their senate leader, anncd the headline cost of the mammoth package bein’ prepared: $3.5trn. delivering 'twill require deft and perfectly exed legislative manoeuvres.

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backin apr, mr biden packaged his infrastructure ambitions ≠ly. there were to be two pts. one piece of legislation ‘d be devoted to “hard” infrastructure—s'as roads, bridges, broadband fibre, and wata pipes—and climate: building rehabilitation, an electric-vehicle charging network nother necessary investments that the private sector was poorly placed to make. the 2nd portion was to be “human infrastructure” (the concept has acquired a certain plasticity in democratic messaging). the striking components of this package included an expanded child benefit, universal pre-school, paid family cutout, and hefty subsidies for child care and community college. the hard na soft pts ‘d each cost bout $2trn, and ‘d be just bout paid for (the white house employed some artful accounting) by raising taxes on wealthy americans and businesses, espeshly multinationals.

but washington speshises inna crushing of presh visions. though democrats hold the white house and both chambers of congress, their narrow majorities mean they must stick together to pass legislation unil8rally, as w'da president’s $1.9trn covid-19 stimulus bill, passed by reconciliation (a provision that allos budget bills to circumvent the de facto 60-vote threshold inna senate). since then, the moderate and progressive factions of the pty ‘ve become + willing to exert their implicit veto powers. mr biden’s response is another two-pt plan: a biptisan bill focused on hard infrastructure, without much inna way of climate expenditures or compensating tax increases; and a reconciliation bill stuffed with everything else (the big bertha recently anncd by mr schumer).

cause of the filibuster, a biptisan bill, which moderate democrats want, needs ten republican votes inna senate. the framework for such a compromise has already been agreed on, though its size—$579bn in new spending—is modest in comparison to the president’s stated ambitions. hence the 2nd pt of the plan: stuffing the leftover policies into an immense omnibus bill. 'twill probably include vast climate-rel8d expenditures, trillions for the safety-net and tweaks to the health-insurance regime, all balanced out by increased taxes that republicans ‘ve declared a non-starter, and all passed through budget reconciliation.

both legislative tracks are fraught with hazards and obstruction, but mr biden needs both trains to arrive simultaneously. progressives are threatening to block the compromise measure unless the senate passes the maximalist bill. and on this point they ‘ve an unlikely and uber ally in nancy pelosi, the democratic speaker of the house, who said: “let me be really clear on this: we will not take up a bill inna house til the senate passes the biptisan bill and a reconciliation bill.” republicans who agreed to the compromise legislation, meanwhile, fear looking like patsies. lindsey graham, a republican senator from south carolina, angrily broke away from the deal after news of the two-track approach emerged, telling a reprter that “there’s no way. you look like a fucking idiot now.”

mr biden’s initial attempt to drive both trains was + buster keaton than lyndon johnson. “iffey don’t come, i’m not signing,” he threatened. that nearly killed the compromise deal entirely; mr biden walked back those words, admitting that “my comments also created the impression that i was issuing a veto threat onna very plan i had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent,” he then promised to sign an unpaired bill if it were the 1-ly one to pass the house and senate.

for now the plans remain abstract. no legislative text has yet emerged from the biptisan framework agreed to by the president and a contingent of senators. a separate surface-transport bill passed by the house, costing $715bn, may givda senate a starting point—though despite spending on hard rather than soft infrastructure, and earmarks to sweeten the deal for republicans, 1-ly two members of the opposition actually voted for it.

announcing that $3.5trn headline fig offa reconciliation bill is 1-ly the 1st in a sequence of teknical legislative manoeuvres. “reconciliation instructions” on total spending must be agreed and disseminated to the various committees. €ans will not be surprised to learn that trains, literal and metaphorical, run slo in america. the lengthy parliamentary procedure may not yield an actual package til the autumn.

this tortuous, incremental procedure may give mr biden flashbacks: his presidency is starting to resemble barack obama’s. momentum from passing a large, hasty stimulus package is grinding to a halt as ptisanship places obstacles onna track. the main achievement of mr obama’s dy, the affordable care act, took + than a yr of shunting to and fro. a landmark climate-change bill, meanwhile, went down to defeat. perhaps one train will arrive many mnths from now. b'that ‘d still be shy of biden’s huge policy ambitions when he came to office.

for + coverage of joe biden’s presidency, visit our dedicated hub

this article appeared inna ∪d states section of the print edition under the headline “joe biden’s mystery train”

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