Biden strikes a deal with Republicans.

Will Democrats get everything they want?
Isaac Saul Jun 28, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

Biden’s infrastructure deal with Republicans, a question about Marjorie Taylor Greene, and a major Tangle milestone.

President Biden announces an infrastructure deal with a bipartisan group of senators. Screenshot: Washington Post YouTube

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Quick hits.

  1. The Justice Department announced it is suing Georgia over its new voting laws, alleging that they specifically discriminate against Black voters. (MSNBC)
  2. Former police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years for the murder of George Floyd. The sentence was in line with many experts’ predictions, and includes a mandatory 15 years behind bars and 7.5 on parole. (Axios)
  3. Nine people are dead and 150 still unaccounted for after the collapse of a condo building in Miami. (BBC)
  4. The World Health Organization says high-risk people, including the elderly, will need annual covid-19 booster shots. (Reuters)
  5. The Supreme Court declined to hear a transgender bathroom rights dispute, delivering a victory to a trans student who sued his school for discrimination and won after he was denied access to the boys’ bathroom. (The Washington Post, subscription)

What D.C. is talking about.

Infrastructure. President Joe Biden and a group of bipartisan senators are striking an optimistic tone about a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package (over 10 years) — with $550 billion in new spending. That’s well short of the $2.25 trillion plan Biden proposed in March, but would still amount to a historic level of infrastructure spending. Five Senate Republicans joined Biden and a group of Democrats to announce the deal: Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Democratic senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT.) and Mark Warner (D-VA) were also at the White House on Friday. In sum, more than 20 Republicans and Democrats have expressed support for the framework.

Shortly after announcing the deal, Biden told reporters he would only sign it if the bill came “in tandem” with another spending package that included parts of the $2.2 trillion American Families Plan. The idea is to pass this compromise bill with Republican votes and the remaining priorities via budget reconciliation, a process that could allow all Democrats in the Senate to pass new spending without any Republican support.

Biden’s comments nearly sunk the compromise, as Republicans immediately accused him of a bait-and-switch. But after he clarified his remarks to indicate he’d sign this package no matter what, it appears Republicans are back on board. Still, Biden conceded, he’s going to try to use budget reconciliation later, to pass whatever parts of the American Families Plan don’t make it into the compromise bill.

Spending totals for the deal were outlined in a White House press release and focus on “hard infrastructure” rather than “human infrastructure,” as some Democrats have described it. Here is a brief breakdown of what’s included:

$109 billion will be spent on repairing roads and bridges with a focus on preparing for the impacts of climate change. $49 billion will go toward modernizing existing public transit, along with $66 billion to expand and repair railways, $25 billion for airports and $16 billion for ports and waterways. $7.5 billion will go toward building 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. Another $7.5 billion will be spent on electrifying school busses and public transit.

$11 billion will be spent on improving the safety of roads and bridges, including changes to better serve cyclists and pedestrians. $55 billion will be spent on “water infrastructure,” specifically removing the nation’s remaining lead service lines and pipes. $65 billion will go to improving America’s broadband internet (Biden initially asked for $100 billion to connect every American to the internet). $73 billion will go to the power infrastructure, including thousands of miles of new transmission lines for renewable energy. There is also $21 billion for “environmental remediation.”

The bipartisan group has outlined a few ideas for how to pay for the plan, including tapping $80 billion in unspent pandemic unemployment benefits and pursuing fraudulent jobless payments. However, estimates of fraudulent jobless funds vary wildly. Some senators also proposed selling off strategic oil reserves, and President Biden has said the IRS will ramp up its enforcement on corporations to ensure they pay their fair share of taxes. The bill does not call for increasing the corporate tax rate.

Below, we’ll examine some reactions to this announcement.


What the right is saying.

Many on the right are opposed to the deal, saying Republican senators are giving Biden everything he wants, with historic spending along the way.

The National Review editors called the process a “charade.”

“There is much to dislike about the so-called compromise proposal (even putting aside the minor detail that the nation’s infrastructure is not, in fact, in dire need of repair),” they wrote. “Democrats have made their plans very clear. They want to move the bipartisan plan through the Senate on a parallel track with a reconciliation bill stuffed with liberal wish-list items that will be rammed through on a pure party-line basis…Biden is not in fact giving up any ground by signing on to some provisions with Republicans if he’s going to get everything he wants anyway via a partisan parliamentary maneuver. All that Republicans would be giving Biden would be the veneer of bipartisan cover.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the deal for using unspent unemployment benefits from red states (that are performing well economically) to pay for the deal.

“According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, federal spending on unemployment benefits will likely be about $56 billion lower than CBO predicted. Guess where most of those ‘savings’ will come from? Answer: the 26, mostly GOP-led, states that have announced plans to end the bonus before its planned expiration after Labor Day. Florida, Texas, Georgia, Utah and Oklahoma stopped theirs on Saturday. Meanwhile, California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York mopped up 40 percent of benefit payments during the first quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The budget savings would be much greater if Democratic states ended their bonus, but they want to keep taking federal cash, even though it pays millions of Americans more not to work than to take a job.

“All of this means that the bipartisan deal is using money from workers in GOP states that have behaved responsibly during the pandemic in order to finance such Democratic priorities as electric-vehicle charging stations and California’s bullet train to nowhere,” they wrote.

Mick Mulvaney, who was the director of Office of Management and Budget for three years under Trump, hammered the deal for adding new debt.

“Those of us familiar with the spending process saw a sign last week that an infrastructure deal was probably coming: Republicans suggested that they wouldn’t allow the pay-fors to prevent a deal,” Mulvaney wrote. “Instead, the discussions shifted to forming agreements on how not to pay for the bill: Democrats agreed to GOP demands not to raise the corporate tax, while Republicans abandoned proposals on gasoline-tax increases and fees on electric vehicles. Once negotiations in Washington turn exclusively on deficit spending, deals become much easier to accomplish. Plus, with 1,000 billion dollars to spread, there was plenty of money to satisfy everyone. No wonder that one high-profile lobbyist called the infrastructure deal ‘Christmas.’

“Does this country need new infrastructure? Absolutely,” Mulvaney wrote. “America needs it so badly that it shouldn’t be anathema to suggest that we should pay for it. Or that Congress should give infrastructure priority over other spending.”


What the left is saying.

The left is split on the deal, with some cheering on Biden’s ability to make a deal and progressives disappointed that it doesn’t go far enough to tackle their priorities.

The Washington Post editorial board said the deal was just the “bipartisan breakthrough” that U.S. democracy needs.

“How refreshing, and how potentially restorative, for U.S. politics it was not only to have a bipartisan deal on a major policy issue, but also to have an occupant of the White House for whom consensus and agreement are long-standing values, not dirty words,” it wrote. “We say this fully aware of two key shortcomings in the deal… The first problem is how the Republican and Democratic senators and the White House propose to pay for the new spending: not too convincingly. Instead of ‘hard’ revenue, such as the corporate tax increases Mr. Biden supports or higher fuel taxes, which the GOP had proposed, there are one-shot moneymakers, such as sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or accounting gimmicks, such as claiming the federal government can net $72 billion by rooting out unemployment insurance fraud.

“The second problem, of course, is political,” it wrote. “The infrastructure deal is just the first in a series of bargains that will have to get done, probably before the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The next one would have to be among Democrats — Mr. Biden, party progressives led by House members, and Senate moderates such as Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — on the size and scope of a subsequent domestic spending package supported only by Democrats.”

In a CNN op-ed, Fatima Goss Graves and Sean McGarvey criticized Biden for striking a deal that does not include child and elder care — the so-called “human infrastructure.”

“A significant investment in care, including affordable access to high-quality child and elder care, would reach every American,” they wrote. “But leaving behind that support would stunt the economic growth infrastructure spending could provide… so far the deal leaves out Biden's proposal to spend $400 million to bolster caregiving for aging and disabled Americans. Biden's original infrastructure plan, which contained provisions to build and update energy-efficient child care centers, already fell short on raising the wages and benefits of child care workers. Now, the bipartisan deal seems to have limited funding for child care facilities even more with only a provision that eliminates lead water pipes.

“The infrastructure plan outlined by the White House this week is significant and holds a lot of promise for our economy,” they added. “But without another corresponding bill that addresses the care infrastructure workers count on… that promise will come up short.”

In The American Prospect, Alexander Sammon said the deal does not do enough on climate change and for “cosmetically inflated” numbers, noting “the actually meaningful number is the $579 billion in new spending.”

“Of that half a trillion dollars, the vast majority is going, predictably, to repaving roads, expanding highways, building out airports, and burnishing other fossil fuel–heavy infrastructure, transportation, and land and water use patterns,” Sammon wrote. “But broken out, it looks even less substantial. There’s just $15 billion for electric-vehicle infrastructure and electric buses and transit combined, along with $21 billion for ‘resilience,’ $21 billion for environmental remediation that is pretty inarguably not climate-related, and $73 billion for power infrastructure, some percent of which presumably will be green.

“Even at that generous $79 billion number, that means 14 percent of the infrastructure package is being dedicated to environmentally aligned projects, with electric cars and grid modernization, though those are the least ambitious parts of the environmental program—no major expansion of public transit, no major renewable-power generation programs,” he added. “The other 86 percent of the package is largely going to expand fossil fuel–heavy infrastructure.”


My take.

This is an absolutely fascinating break in the logjam that I suspect might turn into a royal flush for President Biden.

Imagine this: The group of 20-plus Republican and Democratic senators who have already announced their support for this bill follow through. Biden passes the compromise bill with “bipartisan support,” stamps it with his negotiating prowess and locks in more than $500 billion of new infrastructure spending over the next eight years, a politically popular move.

Then, a month or two later, he’s tasked only with convincing two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — to get in line for a budget reconciliation process to push through another trillion dollars of progressive must-haves like a major investment in child care and the elderly, thus appeasing the left wing of the party and locking in an historic — and permanent — progressive legislative achievement before the midterms. If you’re anywhere on the “team blue” spectrum, that scenario is an unambiguous grand slam, and it is looking increasingly likely by the day.

What I didn’t see coming, and what is most curious, is just how obvious this all was. Republicans feigned outrage last week and nearly sunk the deal when Biden said he was going to push for the “human infrastructure” via reconciliation, but it shouldn’t have been surprising. He’s said that over and over again from the beginning. What’s fascinating is that the moderate Republicans in this deal pretended they didn’t know that and are clearly making a calculation: they will be able to say they got something done, passed something that’s politically popular (repairs to infrastructure), and then will hammer Democrats for pushing through the rest of their agenda in a partisan, wonky process, even though they knew it was coming. Biden basically got in trouble for articulating this obvious sequence of events out loud.

In a weird and cynical way, if it goes down like this, it’s actually a little bit of what everyone wants: Biden gets what he’s pining for, which is proof he can work with Republicans. Progressives get what they want, which is trillions of dollars of spending on everything from electric cars to raising wages for care workers. Moderate Republicans get what they want, which is proof they can pass popular legislation and bring millions of dollars in spending to their home states. And the staunchest conservative opposition gets what it wants too, which is proof that working with Biden means getting “double-crossed” and ceding ground to the furthest left factions of the Democratic party. Which, duh, they’ll use to try to ramp up Republican turnout in the midterms.

As for the actual compromise bill, we still don’t know very much, and it will likely take years to be able to evaluate its impact. But so far, I like what I’m seeing. I said in March that the care economy is not infrastructure — no matter how many times liberals say it is (even if those workers deserve better wages and benefits). I also said I’d support an overhaul of our bridges, airports and roads, given my own experience with how run down our infrastructure is (very few people are making the opposite case that an infrastructure overhaul is not needed, but if you’re curious about that argument you can find it here).

What I said back in March was that “dumping federal money into roads, bridges, airports, internet access, power grids and even schools is okay by me. If I’m picking the places my tax dollars are going to go, those things are near the top of the list.” I stand by that now with a bill that seems to address those things specifically.

Of course, “how are they going to pay for it” is the open question — and with rising inflation and debt, it’s the most important one. Even there, though, it’s encouraging to see some fresh ideas about selling off oil reserves or using unspent pandemic cash, both of which are ideas that could garner bipartisan support, rather than just the standard-bearer “tax the rich.”

On Friday, I wrote openly about the questions around President Biden’s cognitive state. In making the case that he’s perfectly okay, I argued that the strongest point in his favor is to just look at how often his administration is accomplishing its goals. It’s running basically as he promised. If this deal goes through, you can seal that argument and ship it. It would be a masterclass from the president on governance, and a boon for the left and Democrats.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Let's say you're in her [Marjorie Taylor Greene’s] district, where she'll necessarily have to campaign again in 2022. As I recall, there were some extenuating circumstances where her opponent ended up dropping out in the 2020 cycle. But now as the incumbent she's got a voting record and all the noise she's made could (depending on your prior biases) be construed as fighting for the district. First, how do you cover an incumbent candidate who's not really legislating/representing in good faith? Second, how do you run against an incumbent candidate who's almost certainly not going to debate in good faith, and will almost certainly drag you through the mud locally and nationally in the process?

— AF, Baltimore, Maryland

Tangle: I would not want to be running against Greene in her district. It’s true she won in 2020 thanks to a runoff primary where very few voters turned out. But having a national profile as a member of the House is a huge advantage — and I imagine she will rake in loads of cash (and free press) when she runs. I hate to say this (because I loathe her brand of politics) but I do not think she’s going to lose a House race anytime soon.

That being said, if I were covering her in her district, I’d just do it honestly: I’d write about her bizarre obsession with talking about Jews and Hitler, her penchant for embracing and espousing conspiracies, and her inability to craft any meaningful legislation (so far) for her constituents at home. She is also losing committee seats, power and influence as more and more Republicans denounce her every day. She’s becoming increasingly ineffective and isolated.

If you share Greene’s politics, she is a great champion in the culture war. But if you live in her district and are looking for tangible benefits to having her represent you… well, good luck. All 63 bills she has signed onto have only been introduced — none have passed the House, and most are tied directly to hot button national issues (like ensuring there are no vaccine requirements for the military or defunding the Wuhan Institute of Virology).

For me, that’s the story I’d focus on: her legislative track record. What is she doing for her district? What bills does she help pass between now and the midterms, and which ones does she spend her political capital on?

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A story that matters.

Police officers are quitting in droves across the country. In a survey of 194 police agencies, retirements were up 45 percent this year, and resignations up 18 percent. Police chiefs are pointing to harassment on the job and the stress of ordinary people and politicians embracing the “defund the police” movement as the primary reasons for cops leaving the beat. It comes at a time when violent crime is spiking in major cities across the country. In one Asheville, North Carolina department, 80 officers have already quit on a force of 238 cops. The New York Times has the story here.


Numbers.

  • 99.9%. The percentage of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in May who weren’t fully vaccinated, according to the Associated Press.
  • 58%. The percentage of Americans aged 18-34 who reacted positively to the word capitalism in a 2019 survey.
  • 49%. The percentage of Americans aged 18-34 who reacted positively to the word capitalism in the same survey this month.
  • 56%. The percentage of younger Republicans who say the government should pursue policies that reduce the wealth gap.
  • 41%. The percentage of all U.S. adults who view socialism positively.

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Have a nice day.

Lego is going green. The legendary toy company announced it has built a prototype brick made entirely of recycled plastic. Lego officials say the latest design hasn’t yet passed its rigorous quality, safety and play requirements, but it’s hopeful that the latest brick is durable enough to hit stores soon. The product will use “polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycled from bottles that have been thrown away,” according to CBS News. It might be a few years before the bricks are in circulation, but a single one-liter plastic bottle could yield enough material for ten 2x4 lego bricks. (CBS News)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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