Not so fast. This is where the sausage-making really begins.
To bring this home, 50 Senate Democrats must now negotiate among themselves what and how much goes into a separate budget reconciliation deal to keep all 50 votes intact for the infrastructure package. Remember, budget reconciliation is the legislative tool that enables tax and spending measures to move forward on a simple majority vote — no direct policy, just money. (Of course, we know that spending is policy, too.)
When it first appeared that at least two centrist Democrats were siding with Republicans to separate hard infrastructure from the remainder of President Biden’s agenda, progressives were understandably skeptical: They are too familiar with having progressive priorities sidelined in favor of inside-the-Beltway middle ground. However, as they (and the president) were quick to point out, many of their ideas that will be diverted into the second package — fighting the climate crisis and investing in child care, early-childhood education, community college, long-term care and family leave — are enormously popular policies among the American people, and Republicans might have a hard time explaining a no vote to their constituents.
Biden may have spoken the quiet part out loud when he indicated that he would not sign the infrastructure bill unless the second separate budget reconciliation measure was also passed. Yet, despite the faux outrage that caused him to clarify his intent, anyone who’s been paying attention (including minority leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) knows that the two packages are linked — whether in tandem, as the president said, or one right after the other — even if it happens behind closed doors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also know that sausage sometimes comes in links. Last week, Pelosi made clear that the House would not take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate moves on budget reconciliation. Furthermore, with no margin for error in the Senate and only a handful of votes to spare in the House, Pelosi and Schumer are fully aware of the agendas of all their individual members and what will be needed to line up all the votes needed for both bills to become law.
Several weeks ago, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) declared “No Climate, No Deal” — meaning they would not support the infrastructure package unless significant spending measures to address the threat of climate change are included as part of the budget reconciliation. This was no secret. These Democrats want to see a robust package of tax incentives spread over a decade to put the United States on the path to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2035. They argue that a clean energy standard is a critical piece of making sure the United States hits its ambitious goals in keeping with reentry into the Paris climate accord. To be clear, these goals are in line with Biden’s — clean electricity deployment and electrification of the transportation sector; clean energy generation, energy storage and transmission; refundable tax credit rebates for zero emission vehicles; and using manufacturing incentives to support domestic manufacturing retooling.
As determined as centrists have been to move their bipartisan agenda, these climate senators are fiercely determined — but ready to negotiate. So even as some in the media are criticizing progressive activists for dumping on the centrist senators — Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — progressive lawmakers have remained largely silent, allowing the compromise to move forward unmolested by the left. Their districts and states need the hard infrastructure too, and progressives see that short of one big bill, budget reconciliation is the best pathway for this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
At the end of the day, the math works only if all House and Senate Democrats (and a few Republicans) support a strong but slimmed down version of an infrastructure package, and if all those Democrats then take the second step in this two-step process with a robust budget measure that boldly embraces the care economy and meets the president’s climate goals. Pelosi and Schumer have been cooking for a long time — they know how the sausage is made, and the rest of us should get out of the kitchen.