'Legislative mutually-assured destruction': How Democrats can bring infrastructure talks back from the brink

'Legislative mutually-assured destruction': How Democrats can bring infrastructure talks back from the brink

It remains to be seen what type of infrastructure package, if any, will ultimately make it to President Joe Biden's desk and be signed into law. Centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key figure in infrastructure negotiations with Republicans, has very different ideas on infrastructure from staunch progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City. Journalist Philip Elliott, in an article published by Time on September 22, lays out five reasons why "Biden's agenda could blow apart spectacularly in the next eight days" — and one reason "why we should all just take a moment and not get too carried away."

"Biden's huddles with Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are paired with sessions to hear from progressive leaders and their new foes, centrist Democrats," Elliott explains. "Ostensibly, they all want to back Biden's agenda. But they all have parts of the current $3.5 trillion (infrastructure) plan they can't stomach. If the bill fails, Democrats will all go down together in a moment of legislative mutually-assured destruction."

According to Elliott, the five reasons why infrastructure talks may fall apart are: (1) "conscientious uncoupling," (2) "progressives' ire," (3) "centrists' skepticism," (4) "the PhRMA pay-for," and (5) "the Republicans' dare."

On one hand, Elliott notes, progressives "are keenly aware that this may be their last chance to make a real policy difference for a decade or more" — and on the other hand, Democratic centrists in swing districts "know the Democratic brand isn't great, and throwing open the gates for $4 trillion in Biden-backed spending won't help."

Elliott points out that Democrats also have their conflicts over "a provision that would pay for a $550 billion chunk of the $3.5 trillion by letting Medicare negotiate prices directly with drug companies."

"Republicans, meanwhile, are quite content to sit back and watch this play out," Elliott observes. "The bipartisan infrastructure bill cleared the Senate with the backing of 19 Republicans. But it's expected to be far less popular in the House, where many GOP members still take their marching orders from Mar-a-Lago. Just last night, not a single Republican in the House voted for yet another debt ceiling increase, flying in the face of history."

But Elliott concludes his article on a more optimistic note, saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might still find a way to help centrist and progressive Democrats overcome their differences on infrastructure and get legislation onto Biden's desk for signature.

"Pelosi is peerless when it comes to finding ways out of seemingly impossible moments like this," Elliott stresses. "She understands what an unwieldy coalition her Democratic Party has become, a party of centrists and progressives, Wall Street-hating populists and deep-pocketed coastal donors. If this were Europe, the Democratic Party would be at least five parties. Democrats on the Hill are watching Pelosi closely and with true confidence. Even in the face of overwhelming chaos, senior Democrats are confident that if anyone can sort this out, it's her — even if it means finding ways to cow Republicans into voting for it."

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