What is the question? Just about anything important a Democratic president is asking.
The answer was no.
Republicans said no.
Resistance to change is, of course, expected from the country’s conservative political party. An intellectual icon of the modern GOP, William F. Buckley once described the role of a conservative as “Standing ahead of history, ‘Stop!’ Shouting” as did.
But in an era of partisan polarization, that impulse has hardened into resistance to the regime itself. On the issues that bother him most — the changing face of America, the household spending program, tax hikes — congressional Republicans have lit the red light in the Democratic and Republican White Houses alike.
In 1990, most were not voted when President George HW Bush negotiated with Democrats on a deficit reduction bill, including tax increases. Three years later, not all of them voted on the deficit reduction package signed by President Bill Clinton.
Over the next decade, the Republican opposition called for immigration reform with President George W. Bush, which grants legal status to undocumented immigrants. The same thing happened to President Barack Obama a few years later, which helps explain why Biden didn’t think about the issue this year.
After scuttling Clinton’s government-heavy national health care proposal 15 years ago, congressional Republicans voted unanimously against Obama’s market-based approach. Never mind that the Affordable Care Act was modeled after a conservative think-tank idea that the then Govt. Mitt Romney had turned to a Republican plan for Massachusetts.
The details of the proposal for Democratic presidents are only part of Republican resistance. As Senate Leader Mitch McConnell once explained, withholding all GOP support denies the Democratic initiative the bipartisan label that “can tell the public it’s OK.”
When events during the Obama years left no choice, McConnell struck a deal with his longtime Senate aide, then-Vice President Biden. One ended a debt-crisis that forced House Republicans to downgrade America’s credit rating for the first time; Another previously enacted tax-cut for wealthy Americans ends up avoiding a “fiscal cliff” that would have raised taxes on everyone.
Now he wants a deal on infrastructure. The popularity of new roads and bridges would, in theory, make it a ripe target for bipartisan agreement.
But because infrastructure investments involve a lot of government spending, Republicans in Congress haven’t acted even when Trump embraces a major program. Biden not only wants to spend more than Trump, he proposes higher taxes to pay for it.
To him, the Republican answer is clearly no.
After Biden’s talks with GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia last week, five Senate Republicans and five Democrats announced a compromise infrastructure “framework.” It, too, rejected the tax increase, but proposed a higher expenditure than the Capito.
The White House did not rule it out. Although the tax hike represents Biden’s first option, he has indicated that he sees some one-time infrastructure investments worth adding to the near-term deficit because they will increase the country’s long-term productive capacity.
Yet most remain pessimistic that the deficit-funded infrastructure agreement could attract support from at least 10 GOP senators, which is the minimum necessary to join Democrats in passing a filibuster. Although congressional Republicans easily widened the deficit to implement Trump’s tax cuts, their answer to Democratic spending programs is not.
The failure of the bipartisan agreement need not scuttle Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, which includes costly new programs to help struggling families climb the economic ladder in addition to infrastructure investments. Biden can push this through a special budget process known as “conciliation,” which requires only a simple majority vote in the Senate, rather than the filibuster-proof 60-age.
That route, which Democratic leaders have already set in motion, would not require any Republican votes. This would require every Senate Democrat and almost every House Democrat to say yes.