Only in the retiring, legacy-focused mind of Ron Portman, the pragmatic, back-slapping hands of Chuck Schumer, and the misty eyes of the ever-nostalgic Joe Biden is the $1 trillion infrastructure bill a triumph of bipartisanship.
A one-time truce hardly heralds an Age of Aquarius or makes Mitch McConnell a reasonable person. It means that the wily minority leader has taken advantage of Biden’s weakness for opposition buy-in to extract concessions that weaken the bill but increase its odds of passage. Now when McConnell kills everything else, he can dredge up the time he delivered his lordly self and 18 others as an alibi.
Forget that building things is a GOP priority too, since a new exit ramp or a bridge to somewhere is as close to apple pie and motherhood as it gets in Washington. It was decidedly in McConnell’s interest to send a honey pot of money to Republican states just before the 2022 election. Grateful voters could repay the favor by returning the 79-year old to the majority before it’s too late.
Prior to this burst of comity, McConnell was largely a thorn in Biden’s side. The minority leader whipped votes against a third stimulus payment of $1,400 that proved so popular that his members took credit for the checks they’d voted against when they went home on spring recess.
Now he’s making up for not sending a check by sending a bridge. But c’mon man, that doesn’t make Republicans bipartisan, it makes them opportunists. If Biden weren’t hung up on everyone getting along, infrastructure could have been wrapped into reconciliation and passed on a party-line vote. The amount appropriated would have ended up closer to Sanders’ six trillion dollars rather than the Republican’s one trillion since it could be passed without them.
That’s not to diminish the first infrastructure bill to pass in three decades, or Democrats’ brilliance in hanging together to the end. There’s nothing more concrete than concrete and pouring millions of cubic yards into a falling-down country is all to the good. It reassures our allies that the U.S. isn’t completely gridlocked or in the grip of a violent mob calling themselves patriots. The lights are on.
But patching our sorry roads and upgrading our antiquated railbeds is no Construction New Deal. This hardly moves the country into the 21st century, as any civil engineer, the non-partisan kind with a pencil protector and no axe to grind, would tell you.
Earlier this year, McConnell went full obstruction. But when his bold pledge to focus 100 percent of his effort "on stopping this new administration" did nothing to reduce Biden’s favorables, which remained stubbornly high, or raise McConnell’s, which stayed depressingly low.
McConnell softened his approach calling Biden “a first-rate person” despite being hampered by his “left wing.” Speaking in Kentucky he told an audience he was so close to Biden he attended Beau’s funeral. He even chose Joe as the one president he’d be happy to be stranded on a desert island with—imagine a man as buttoned-up as his Brooks Brothers shirt enduring as much as a short flight with one who can’t be quiet? Only Biden might believe it.
All in a day’s work for McConnell, who expressed shock at the insurrection right after the Capitol was invaded but miraculously recovered to insist there was nothing to impeach, or investigate, here. He embraced the Gang Of route for infrastructure, preferable to a traditional committee process where majority counsel would alert Democrats when they were getting rolled. Republicans took a slotted spoon to the Democrats’ rich stew, skimmed out the truffles, not entirely a bad thing, but then proceeded to remove meat and bones. With the gruel suitably thinned, from $3 trillion to $1 trillion, McConnell, in a flash of cooperation, rounded up 19 yeas, including his.
You can’t credit bipartisanship for victory when Democrats could have passed the bill on their own and Republicans couldn’t be solidly opposed to something that 62 percent of Americans wanted. The GOP blew it on stimulus checks; they didn’t want to blow it again by withholding funds to fix buckling highways with weeds popping through the cracks.
Biden weakens his hand when he speaks nostalgically of reaching so far across the aisle he was asked to speak at Strom Thurmond’s funeral. His quest to prove he can attract Republican “friends” today is futile when most of those friends go along with the lie that he’s an illegitimate president.
Place your bets on who’s going to rack up more successes leading up to the midterms: Biden, who eulogized a notorious segregationist to show his bipartisanship, or McConnell, who faked his own show by delivering billions in federal funds for his members, laid the groundwork for saying no to everything else, and garnered credit for magnanimity in the process?
As a bonus he opened a smidgen of daylight between him and Trump by cementing his relationship with the bloc of 50-year old white guys in Ford-150s who love a smooth ride on fresh asphalt. The ex-president lashed out at McConnell and said he’ll never “understand why” he “allowed this non-infrastructure bill to be passed.”
Add that to so many things Trump doesn’t understand and you’ll get an idea of why he’s ranting from Bedminster and McConnell is speaking from the well of the Senate. McConnell explained that in searching for “an area of potential agreement,” he couldn’t “think of a better one than infrastructure.” And you can bet he never will.
Biden has to face it: The most partisan minority leader in memory doesn’t want to play nice with him any more than he wants the two to share an island.
It only took a few hours after the infrastructure vote for McConnell to revert to his true south, calling Democrats’ proposed budget a “reckless, partisan, taxing and spending spree” that would “shatter President Biden's promise of no middle-class tax hikes.” He also signaled he would be voting against the routine raising of the debt ceiling that would leave the U.S. defaulting on its obligations for the first time ever. Also, he’s just not that into protecting voting rights.
There’s nothing left but to end the filibuster. In one fell swoop Biden could fix half the potholes in government. The last person to filibuster for a really good cause was Jimmy Stewart, and that was in a movie 82 years ago. These days it’s more likely to be Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham or someone saying he’s calling a filibuster—and he’ll be at a fundraiser at the Capitol Grill if anyone needs him.
The founding fathers hoped for a more perfect union but planned for an imperfect one of majority rule. They did not enshrine the filibuster in the constitution, it’s just a rule that can be changed, like the one that disallows “disturbing another in his speech” by spitting.
A one-vote majority was good enough for the founders. Mr. President, let it be good enough for you.