We say this fully aware of two key shortcomings in the deal, which calls for $973 billion in spending over five years, of which $579 billion is over and above already-approved plans. (That figure includes $312 billion for transportation projects, $55 billion for water infrastructure and $65 billion for broadband, while low-carbon vehicles get a total of $15 billion and the power grid $73 billion.) 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. 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 this regard, Mr. Biden may have committed an unforced error on Thursday. Trying to reassure progressives, he asserted that the Democrats-only measure must pass before he will sign the newly struck deal with the GOP — a pledge that surprised and angered Republicans and may give them a reason to back out. “That’s not the way to show you’re serious about getting a bipartisan outcome,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fumed. Meanwhile, Democratic progressives continue to trash the bipartisan deal as too skimpy, and insist that Mr. Biden make good on his promises of major new spending on climate, home health care and other needs, paid for by higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
There is still plenty of time to sort through these issues. Everyone involved should keep talking, and stay focused on the big picture, which is that the bipartisan package would make substantial, much-needed investments in the economy’s future productivity, paid for with at least some plausible up-front savings (such as $100 billion from enhanced tax enforcement). What’s more, the deal reminds the American public — indeed, the world — that compromise might not be a lost art in Washington after all. Which means that democracy has a future, too.