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Opinion The ‘reconciliation’ train is about to leave the station

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

In a meeting with House Democrats on Tuesday morning, top White House adviser Steve Ricchetti appeared to put a hard deadline on the possibility of an infrastructure deal. According to Punchbowl News, Ricchetti said the White House is giving the bipartisan group of senators negotiating that deal another week to 10 days.

Indeed, it’s obvious that, barring some surprisingly abrupt turnaround, Democrats are going to have to pass a big package by themselves, via the simple majority “reconciliation” process.

This train is going to leave the station by the end of the month. And that’s good: If anything, it should have left some time ago. We can only hope the damage done by the wait doesn’t end up being too serious.

This process is already being set in motion. According to a Senate Democratic aide, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will convene a meeting with all the Democrats on the Budget Committee on Wednesday to start putting together the reconciliation vehicle for the infrastructure package.

Schumer will instruct those Democrats to craft a measure that includes requisite spending for policies that would “reduce carbon pollution at a scale commensurate with the climate crisis,” the aide emails, adding that he will also say that the family-oriented components of Biden’s package are “essential” and must be “robustly funded” in reconciliation.

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The reason this is so critical is that many progressives have been loudly objecting that the endless quest for a deal with Republicans was putting all the progressive priorities in Biden’s package at risk. This seems like an effort to reassure the progressives that they needn’t worry.

As you’ll recall, the idea all along has been that the groups of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who are negotiating a bipartisan deal would try to reach one centered on bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, along the lines of what Republicans will accept. This plan would be paid for somehow or other without raising tax rates on corporations, which Republicans cannot accept under any circumstances.

If that deal comes together, then Democrats would load all the other priorities in Biden’s package — the climate proposals, the supports for children and families, the investments in caregiving infrastructure, the corporate tax hikes to pay for it all — into a reconciliation bill and pass that later. If no bipartisan deal is reached, then Democrats would do the entire thing in one big reconciliation package.

As we all knew would happen, the bipartisan deal is failing to materialize. While it’s still possible, skepticism is intensifying on both sides, with Republicans saying it’s too liberal, and progressives saying too much is being traded away and it’s time for Democrats to move forward alone.

But either way, what’s remarkable is that the other half of the plan actually may be on track.

Schumer’s assurances that the reconciliation package must include robust spending on both the climate and family-support sides of Biden’s plan is designed to send liberals a clear signal. Whatever happens with Republicans, the reconciliation measure — whether it represents the second half of a two-part package, or the whole package all at once — will be ambitious and progressive.

Indeed, as I’ve reported, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who as chair of the Budget Committee is playing an influential role in the creation of that reconciliation package, is privately confident that this measure will be historic in ambition and scope, even if it doesn’t give progressives everything they want. Schumer’s latest directives perhaps validate that confidence.

We should not lose sight of why this has taken so long. It’s because of two factors: the filibuster and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). The filibuster is why all this effort has to be poured into creating a reconciliation package in the first place. And this has dragged on to this point because Manchin will not support a Democrats-only bill until all efforts to win GOP support have been exhausted.

Since it’s apparently too much to hope that Manchin might see the insanity of this process and reconsider his support for the filibuster and his strange insistence that legislation cannot be inherently worth doing unless one or more Republicans supports it, we’ll have to hope all this delay doesn’t end up compromising the final product. But at least we’re about to get real movement.

Read more:

Catherine Rampell: How Republicans could actually improve Biden’s infrastructure proposal

Jennifer Rubin: Joe Biden has many roads to an infrastructure deal

Greg Sargent: Why Bernie Sanders is taking a quieter approach to Biden

Marc A. Thiessen: Biden wants bipartisanship to fail and for the GOP to be blamed for it