Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

Biden Pulls an Infrastructure Bait and Switch on the GOP

After a month of closed-door negotiations, President Joe Biden strode to the cameras in front of the White House last week, flanked by 21 Democrat and Republican senators, to proudly announce that he had negotiated a $1.2 trillion infrastructure agreement that, when passed and signed into law, would establish his legacy as the most successful bipartisan dealmaker of our generation.

Then, at a White House press conference just two hours later, Biden undermined the agreement with a provocative answer to a reporter’s question. He announced that he was linking his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill he had just negotiated with the Republicans to the simultaneous passage of a second, more controversial spending bill supported only by Democrats. Biden warned that unless the second bill was passed at the same time, he would refuse to sign the bipartisan bill into law.

By making that veto threat only after first announcing the agreement on the bipartisan deal, Biden perpetrated a political version of the classic “bait and switch” conman’s trick on his GOP negotiating partners.

The political drama unfolded slowly. At the start of his press conference held in the White House East Room, Biden read from a carefully prepared the script which hinted at the linkage of the two bills, but did not contain an explicit veto threat: “I’m going to work closely with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to make sure that both move through the legislative process promptly and in tandem. Let me emphasize that — and in tandem,” Biden said.

But then one of the reporters present delicately asked Biden for clarification on the key point which had been the subject of widespread speculation in the media for weeks: “Mr. President, you said you want both of these measures to come to you ‘in tandem.’ Did you receive any assurances that that would happen?”

If Biden had responded to that question directly by simply repeating that Pelosi and Schumer would be working to pass both bills at the same time, Republicans supporting the bipartisan deal would have had no reason to complain. Everyone in Washington had known for weeks that congressional Democrats would be trying to pass the second partisan spending bill in the Senate using reconciliation procedures so that they wouldn’t need any Republican votes. Under the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules, the second bill could pass with only all 50 of the Senate Democrat votes, plus Kamala Harris’ vice-presidential tiebreaker, getting around the threat of a Republican filibuster.

But in his response, Biden threatened to veto the bipartisan bill if the Democrat bill was not passed by the Senate at the same time. “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden replied without any hesitation. “I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest.”

A DELIBERATE DECEPTION AND PROVOCATION

The reporter’s question could not have come as a surprise for Biden or his White House handlers. His blunt answer, including a clear veto threat, came as a rude shock to the Republican lawmakers who had just climbed out on a political limb by agreeing to a bipartisan deal with the president, which Biden could point to as one of the major accomplishments of his presidency.

Democrat progressives in both the House and Senate had grown increasingly nervous in recent weeks over Biden’s efforts to reach an agreement with the Republicans. They issued their own threats to vote against the bipartisan bill if they did not get sufficient assurances that the liberal spending bill would be passed at the same time. But throughout Biden’s negotiations with the Republicans, he had never mentioned that he was making Senate passage of the second bill a precondition for signing their bipartisan agreement into law.

Speaker Pelosi added more fuel to the fire by issuing a statement in which she promised to block any House vote on the bipartisan bill until after the Senate had passed the second liberal spending measure and sent it to Biden’s desk for signature into law.

PELOSI AND SCHUMER WERE PART OF THE PLOT

We know that Pelosi’s announcement was coordinated in advance with the White House — because Democrat Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told us so. On the morning of the same day that Biden announced the deal with the Republicans, Schumer took to the Senate floor to publicly reassure his progressive Democrat colleagues that the political “fix” was in, because he, Pelosi and the president had agreed that the bipartisan deal would not become law unless the liberal spending plan did too.

“These two efforts are tied together. Let me make that clear,” Schumer said. “Speaker Pelosi agrees that we cannot do one without the other. All parties understand that we won’t get enough votes to pass either unless we have enough votes to pass both.”

The one-two punch, of Biden’s veto threat at his news conference accompanied by Pelosi’s threat to block the bipartisan bill from coming up for a vote in the House, was an unprecedented act of political chutzpah. It outraged and embarrassed the Republicans who had endorsed in good faith the bipartisan deal that Biden had announced just a few hours earlier. At the same time, progressives were delighted by the idea that Biden’s duplicity would enable him to claim credit for the bipartisan infrastructure deal, while using it as leverage to force the Republicans to accept their bloated liberal “infrastructure” spending package.

Based upon past performance, the White House believed that the inevitable Republican outcry at their betrayal by Biden would be short-lived. They were confident that their allies in the mainstream media would help them pressure the moderate GOP senators into eventually accepting the linkage of the two bills as a fait accompli.

For the next 24 hours, Biden’s top advisers were calling Republican senators, to explain that Biden didn’t really mean what he had clearly said, that if the liberal spending bill didn’t pass the Senate, he would not allow the bipartisan bill to become law, either. But the White House damage control effort was overwhelmed by an outpouring of both anger and disgust at Biden’s underhanded tactics. The criticism didn’t only come from the Senate Republicans who had been duped, and the entire grassroots conservative movement, but also from some analysts in the mainstream media who didn’t even try to conceal or excuse the blatant cynicism behind Biden’s move.

BIDEN WALKS IT BACK, BUT LEAVES SOME WIGGLE ROOM

When it became apparent that the White House damage control operation wasn’t working, Biden was forced to attempt to walk back his very explicit veto threat, by lamely denying “the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to.”

That was “certainly not my intent,” he added.

Biden then added, “The bottom line is this. I gave my word to support the infrastructure plan, and that’s what I intend to do. I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to … with vigor. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”

But the president still left himself plenty of wiggle room. While promising “to pursue passage of that [bipartisan] plan,” he never explicitly took back his threat to veto the bipartisan bill if the liberal spending bill doesn’t arrive at his desk for signature at the same time.

Comparing his veto threat with his subsequent “clarification” makes it clear that Biden was engaging in Orwellian doublespeak by trying to deny the clear meaning of his own words.

HOW THE BIPARTISAN DEAL DEVELOPED

To reach the bipartisan agreement, Biden and three of his top White House officials had been negotiating with a group of 10 senators, including five Democrats and five Republicans, led by Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Krysten Sinema of Arizona.

The other eight senators involved in the bipartisan negotiations with the White House included Republicans Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah. The participating Democrats were Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The White House negotiating team was led by Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president; Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director; and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.

As the bipartisan deal was finally coming together, an additional six Republican and five Democrat senators also agreed to vote for the measure. The total of 11 Republican senators who were then committed to supporting the bill was one more than the minimum of 10 needed to block any attempt by the bill’s opponents to kill it with a Senate filibuster threat.

A MIXED REPUBLICAN REACTION

The initial goal of the White House damage control effort after the president unleashed his veto threat was to appease the anger of the Republicans who had been double-crossed when Biden went back on his promise to support the bipartisan infrastructure deal he had just announced.

Senator Portman, the lead Republican negotiator, appeared satisfied in an ABC TV interview the day after the president tried to walk back his veto threat. “I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks because it was inconsistent with everything we had been told along the way,” Portman said. “I’m glad they’ve now been delinked and we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that is broadly popular not just among members of Congress but the American people.”

Senator Romney of Utah also agreed that thanks to Biden’s forced reaffirmation of his support for the bipartisan deal, “the waters have been calmed.”

But Senator Cassidy of Louisiana still seemed unconvinced about Biden’s intentions. In an interview with a reporter for a local Fox TV channel, Cassidy remarked that there are “a lot of conversations taking place right now as to what the president meant,” when he threatened to veto the bipartisan bill and then tried to walk it back. While admitting the possibility that Biden had misspoke, Cassidy reiterated, “that was not the understanding as we began upon these good faith negotiations. So I’m hoping we continue in good faith and it won’t be as if we crafted something just to give the president a point of leverage to get something that Republicans disagree with.”

Cassidy later amplified his complaint in a tweet, in which he said, “Democratic leadership and @POTUS holding the historic bipartisan infrastructure agreement hostage was never discussed with us and was not part of the deal we agreed to.”

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was part of the second group of Republicans to endorse the infrastructure agreement, said in an interview with Politico that Biden’s veto threat had changed his mind about supporting the bipartisan deal. “He [Biden] can forget it! I’m not doing that! That’s extortion!” Graham fumed. “[We] are being told you can’t get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game!”

Graham also told Politico that, “Most Republicans could not have known [about the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer plan to link the two bills]. There’s no way. You look like [an] idiot now. I don’t mind bipartisanship, but I’m not going to do a suicide mission.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who never came out in support of the bipartisan deal, said that Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer had “literally pulled the rug out from under their bipartisan negotiators…

“It was a tale of two press conferences … Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it,” McConnell said from the Senate floor, arguing that this meant the president wasn’t “serious” about passing the legislation.

DUPED REPUBLICAN SENATORS

Former President Trump’s chief economic spokesman and advisor, Larry Kudlow, concludes that the Republicans who endorsed the bipartisan deal were victims of a Biden “classic bait and switch [and] big lie in full public view.”

Kudlow, who currently hosts a daily afternoon show on the Fox Business Channel, told his audience, “It’s now very clear that the double-cross was always the Democrats’ strategy. Bernie Sanders has been talking about it. Nancy Pelosi has been talking about it — but Mr. Biden during the good faith bipartisan negotiations was not talking about it.”

Kudlow sympathized with the Republican senators who were duped. “Rob Portman and Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy are principled people of good faith,” he said. “So I’m not going to blame them just because we have a president who has no moral principles, is dishonest, is over-run by the far left wing of his party and will do anything to make a short-term political buck…

“Joe Biden, who ran as a uniter, who up until [his veto threat] swore he was in favor of bipartisanship, has led a double-cross and caved in to the progressive left’s socialist policies,” Kudlow added.

WHAT IS IN THE BIPARTISAN DEAL?

The bipartisan deal calls for a total investment in infrastructure of $973 billion over five years (or $1.209 trillion over eight years). That includes $579 billion in new spending above and beyond the federal money already committed to infrastructure projects during that time span.

The specific expenditures in the bipartisan bill include $312 billion for transportation projects (bridges, roads, rails and airports), $55 billion for lead removal from the nation’s drinking water infrastructure, $65 billion for expanding broadband access in poor and rural areas of the country, and $73 billion to upgrade the nation’s electric power grid and finance other clean energy projects.

The major sticking point in the bipartisan negotiations involved the method that would be used to pay the cost. Republicans suggested that it should be paid for by those who would benefit the most from the infrastructure improvements. They would include car owners who would pay an increased federal tax on gasoline which had been level for many years, and which would now be increased to reflect the accumulated impact of years of inflation. Republicans also proposed imposing mileage tax on electric car owners to support the cost of building and maintaining the necessary network of thousands of battery-charging stations on roads across the country.

However, the Biden administration called such user fees unacceptable, because they would violate the president’s campaign promise that he would not raise any taxes directly on taxpayers making less than $400,000 a year.

WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM?

In the end, Biden and the Republicans agreed to pay for the infrastructure improvements using leftover funds which were never spent which had been authorized by last year’s Covid relief and unemployment bills, and additional revenues expected from increasing income tax collection efforts by the IRS.

But the details of these “pay-for” arrangements are so vague as to be virtually meaningless. Larry Kudlow claims, for example, that the $700 billion in additional revenues Democrats are projecting from stepped up IRS collection efforts from tax cheats is nothing more than a pipe dream. “They’ll never see the money,” he predicted.

Similarly, the editorial board of the National Review concluded that when the bipartisan negotiators “couldn’t get the numbers to add up,” they resorted to a modern-day version of the old, discredited practice of promising to pay for an expensive new government spending program “by combating waste, fraud, and abuse.”

ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

It was bad enough that Biden was so obviously speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In the process, he added insult to injury by repeatedly referring to his 36-year long history of making bipartisan deals with Republicans across the aisle in the Senate, based upon the trustworthiness of his promises.

When he stood in the White House driveway to announce the bipartisan deal with 21 legislators, Biden said, “A lot of us go back a long way, where we’re used to doing one thing — give each other our word, and that’s the end … They have my word. I’ll stick with what we’ve proposed, and they’ve given me their word as well,” he added.

Biden was all smiles, boasting about how he had generously given up some of the things that he wanted in the bipartisan bill, such as spending on the “human infrastructure” of subsidized child care, in order to reach an agreement.

But later, when the reporter asked his fateful question about the linkage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the partisan Democrat spending bill, Biden broke those promises without a moment’s hesitation or apology.

His veto threat also made it clear that in the bipartisan negotiations, Biden had actually given up nothing to reach an agreement with the Republicans. All the items he had originally wanted that were dropped from the bipartisan bill will now be included in the second bill that he and his fellow Democrats insist must be passed at the same time.

WHITE HOUSE DARES BETRAYED REPUBLICANS TO BACK AWAY

Shortly after Biden made his veto threat explicit, White House press secretary Jan Psaki pushed back at reporters who asked her why Biden hadn’t mentioned his requirement for the passage of both spending bills to Republicans before the bipartisan deal on infrastructure was announced.

“That hasn’t been a secret. He hasn’t said it quietly,” she insisted. “I will say that the president’s view is that the public, the American people, elected him to not lead on process, but to get things done. The leadership of the House and Senate are going to determine sequencing and timing.”

Psaki then sarcastically offered “good luck” to angry Republicans now willing to “vote against a historic investment in infrastructure … simply because they don’t like the mechanics of the process,” adding that they are making “a pretty absurd argument.”

BIDEN’S RECORD OF POLITICAL DUPLICITY

This is not the first time Biden has been guilty of shameless duplicity and abandoning his principles in the all-out pursuit of his political goals. Earlier in his career, Biden was infamous in Washington circles as a political gaffe machine who would usually find a way to shoot himself in the foot every time he opened his mouth in public.

Biden’s 1988 campaign for the Democrat presidential nomination ended in disgrace when it was revealed that Biden had been plagiarizing portions of a speech that had previously been delivered by the leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock.

When he launched his third bid for the presidency in 2019, Biden’s popularity and political reputation was based upon his 36 years record in the Senate as a mainstream Democrat senator, followed by eight years of loyal service as Barack Obama’s vice president. After his poor performance in the early Democrat primaries, Biden abandoned the relatively moderate Democrat positions he had supported on a wide variety of issues and began identifying himself with the radical socialist proposals which had become mainstream Democrat goals thanks to the popularity of Bernie Sanders and young progressive socialist Democrats, such as New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

After the black Democrat primary voters of South Carolina rescued Biden’s failing presidential campaign and turned him into an overnight frontrunner, Biden wisely retreated to the basement of his Delaware home. For the rest of the campaign, Biden made only a few carefully scripted public appearances and relied upon the enemies of President Trump who dominated the mainstream media to sell his moderate, non-threatening political image to America’s voter. Meanwhile, Biden and his campaign handlers turned over his presidential policy platform to the radicals who had taken over the Democrat Party.

BIDEN BECOMES A BORN-AGAIN PROGRESSIVE LIBERAL

Overnight, Biden turned his back on the mainstream positions he had supported for more than 40 years and became a “born-again” progressive liberal. Without apology or explanation, he adopted the pro-regulatory and anti-business agenda of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the impractical “Green New Deal” environmental policies of AOC, and the anti-police stance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Upon becoming president, Biden was quick to turn his radical campaign platform into the policies of his new administration. Using the pandemic as an excuse, he proposed big government spending policies that would explode the national debt, while vastly expanding the power of the government bureaucracy over every aspect of the economy and American lives.

Biden called for the sacrifice of American energy independence due to the exaggerated threat from global warming. He threw open the southern border with Mexico, which was quickly flooded by a rising wave of illegal immigrants, and then denied his administration’s responsibility for the policies and rhetoric that had encouraged them.

Biden also promoted the big lie that American society is thoroughly tainted by systemic racism, further encouraging the deadly spike in gun violence and disdain for the institutions of law and order in virtually every major city in the country.

AMERICAN VOTERS WERE ALSO DUPED

Before last November’s election, voters were led to believe that in voting for Biden, they would be electing a president who would work to heal the wounds inflicted by the previous four years of bitter political partisanship, and who would reach out to govern in honest bipartisanship with his Republican political opponents. But now it is clear that is not the kind of president Biden has turned out to be.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a scaled down version of Biden’s original $2 trillion infrastructure proposal introduced in March and named the American Jobs Plan. It proposed spending roughly the same amount of money as in the bipartisan bill on traditional infrastructure projects. But it would have also spent another $700 billion on what Democrats like to call “human infrastructure” projects, including raising wages and creating new jobs for home care workers; upgrading schools, hospitals and federal buildings; new laws that would further empower labor unions; and additional federal job training programs and investments to revitalize the US manufacturing sector and domestic supply chains.

Democrats plan to add many of those liberal wish list items that didn’t make it into the bipartisan bill into an expanded version of a second $1.8 trillion spending plan which Biden introduce in April. His so-called American Families Plan was focused on a variety of new or expanded federal social safety-net and welfare programs, including paid sick leave.

DEMOCRATS NOW WANT TO SPEND AS MUCH AS $6 TRILLION

Estimates of the cost of the revised “human infrastructure” legislation which Democrats now hope to force through the Senate as a mandatory companion for the bipartisan infrastructure bill run as high as a $6 trillion.

Democrats claim the staggering proposed cost of their second spending bill would mostly be covered by a variety of new taxes designed to punish the wealthy and investors in American businesses for being successful. They include rolling back almost all of President Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which had succeeded in boosting the economy and virtually eliminating unemployment before the pandemic hit. Biden is also calling for a drastic increase in the top capital gains tax rate, combined with changes in the law which would convert capital gains into a second federal “death tax.”

Biden’s proposal also includes a grab bag of new or expanded taxes which the president misleadingly claims will exclusively impact the “wealthy.”

MANCHIN SHOWS DEMOCRATS A YELLOW LIGHT

It is not at all clear that all 50 Senate Democrats will be willing to go along with Biden’s proposed tax increases. Biden can’t afford to lose the vote of a single one of them if he hopes to get the bill passed in the evenly-divided Senate based upon Vice President Harris’ tiebreaker to win a 50-50 vote. Joe Manchin, Republicans’ favorite Democrat senator, has said that he was pleased with the bipartisan infrastructure package that Biden negotiated, and now is willing, in principle, to vote for the Democrats’ bill to support “human infrastructure,” even if taxes have to be raised modestly to pay for it.

Manchin has said his idea of an acceptable corporate tax increase is from the current 21% to 25%, and a reasonable capital gains tax hike would raise the rate from the current 20% to 28%. Biden, on the other hand, is calling for a raise in corporate tax rates to 28%, and for a maximum capital gains tax for millionaires of 39.6%. Manchin’s key condition is that he will only agree to cast his crucial 50th vote for a second “human infrastructure” bill if the package’s total cost can be fully covered by the tax increases he is willing to support.

Manchin made those dollar limits clear in a Sunday ABC news interview. “If Republicans don’t want to make adjustments to a tax code which I think is weighted and unfair,” he said, “then I’m willing to go reconciliation. But if they [his fellow Democrats] think in reconciliation I’m going to throw caution to the wind and go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion when we can only afford $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or maybe $2 trillion and what we can pay for, then I can’t be there.” That is less than half the cost of the reconciliation package which Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi have been talking about.

BAD NEWS FOR PANICKY PROGRESSIVES

Senator Manchin’s conditions are especially bad news for progressive Democrats. They have been pushing the Biden administration hard to ramp up the spending in the second bill. Recent public opinion polls show voter support for Biden and the Democrats weakening, due to fears over rising gun violence, a return of inflation, and immigration chaos at the southern border. History also indicates that the party in control of the White House usually loses seats in the House and Senate during midterm elections. As a result, many Democrats fear that the reconciliation bill Biden wants to pair with the bipartisan infrastructure deal might be their last chance to get their liberal spending programs approved before losing their narrow margin of control over the House, and possibly the Senate as well, as a result of the November 2022 midterms.

The growing panic in Democrat progressive ranks about their closing window of legislative opportunity was reflected in an interview in which AOC declared, “Frankly, we really need to understand that this is our one big shot, not just in terms of family, child care, Medicare, but on climate change.”

FINAL PASSAGE DELAYED UNTIL AFTER THE SUMMER

The spending items in the bipartisan infrastructure bill have broad support and could probably win passage, if they were considered on their own merits, before Congress breaks for its annual August recess. But the exact parameters of the linked Democrat spending bill have not been defined by the party’s leadership yet, and even after it is drafted, it will have to undergo the lengthy review process required by the budget reconciliation rules. There is no timetable for its final passage, and the Biden White House says it will be happy if the two bills are signed into law by the president before the end of the current fiscal year (September 30).

That is a long time for the White House to wait for the passage of its next, and possibly last, major piece of liberal legislation. By that time, the 2022 midterm campaign will be revving up. Electoral candidates in the party primaries will be jockeying for position, and incumbents in Washington, DC, will be weighing every legislative decision based on its likely impact on their chances for reelection. The window for the passage of any new major pieces of legislation in DC will likely already be closed, as candidates, pollsters, and the media turn their full attention to the upcoming election.

BIDEN HAS BURNED HIS BRIDGES

While the ultimate fate of the bipartisan infrastructure bill remains in doubt, it is clear that Biden has now burned his bridges with several of the few moderate Republicans senators willing to deal with him in the first place.

His bait-and-switch veto threat is the second time he has embarrassed his GOP negotiating partners. The first betrayal was when he met with them during the first days of his presidency to seek their support for his Covid relief bill. But within days, Biden rejected their input and encouraged congressional Democrats to pass his original proposal without Republican support, using the reconciliation procedures. Since then, Biden has repeated that pattern, consistently rejecting any GOP input on his policy proposals.

Now that the same Republican senators have been badly burned twice, they are unlikely to give Biden a third chance to pull the political rug out from under their feet. This is a problem, because there are types of legislation that are critical to the functioning of the government — such as budget extensions and debt ceiling raises — which congressional Democrats cannot pass without some Republican support, and which will shortly start coming due.

So far, the only substantive piece of legislation that President Biden has been able to pass into law was his Covid relief bill. If he can’t get another major bill through the 50-50 Senate until the end of September, and Republicans decide they would rather see the government shut down than give the Democrats another political victory at their expense, the remaining three years of Biden’s presidency are likely to be very uncomfortable for all concerned.

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