By Roger Scher
Why this is important. If America’s political parties could cooperate on policies that advance country success, then our democracy would work. The efforts by 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans in the Senate, what I might call the “Infrastructure Ten”, or to use an old term, the “Gang of Ten”, could serve to safeguard the Republic.
If America’s Democrats and Republicans cannot work together to accomplish the nation’s business, then our democratic institutions will weaken. This is what has happened in dysfunctional democracies throughout history and around the world. See my post on one grave historical example when small “d” democrats failed to cooperate on economic policy, with disastrous results for civilization.
The bipartisan plan currently at play in the Senate, in addition to seeking an upgrade of the nation’s infrastructure in order to secure strong, sustainable and equitable economic growth, could potentially represent a point of departure for cooperation.
So, the work of this group should be supported. Don’t let the loud complainers on the partisan left and the partisan right drown out the moderates trying to get something accomplished.
President Biden should lead on this. The Biden administration should embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly. Do the deal, Joe.
It’s time for the president to cash in on the installation of “the bat phone” directly to Bernie Sanders. Apparently, they speak frequently. In an irony greater than Bruce Wayne being the man behind the mask, Bernie is somehow the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee.
Now, I’m sorry — I’m not usually this pointed, but Bernie Sanders as the Chair of the Budget Committee?! Let’s get this straight: the advocate of tens of trillions of dollars of deficit spending on free everything for the American middle class, loudly and transparently argued (to his credit) on the campaign trail from 2015 to 2020, oversees the nation’s budget in the upper house?
Sen. Sanders being the Chair of the Budget Committee is like “Senator Fox” being made Chair of the Senate Committee on the Health and Security of the Henhouse!
Sorry, folks, the absurdity is too palpable to ignore, especially for a sovereign credit analyst such as myself. Changing the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee to someone with more credibility on budgets might enhance the credibility of the Democratic Party on public finances, and help moderate Republicans take risks on legislative compromises.
Maybe Sen. Mark Warner, a member of the Infrastructure Ten, should chair the Budget Committee. But, I wouldn’t want him to turn over the Intelligence Committee, which he currently chairs, to Bernie either, not least because the irony there could overwhelm me. Sorry, Bernie, sorry folks, pitchforks notwithstanding.
Back to passing bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
So, President Biden should work the phones to keep “progressives”, like Bernie Sanders and other likeminded folks in both houses, in line on this important deal. Full stop.
Deliberative negotiation must become the norm. Likewise, the Republican Five need to find at least five more votes in the Senate to reach the magic number of 60. And, in the House, it is time for Liz Cheney & Co. to line up those 35 R’s that voted for the Jan. 6 commission to back the bipartisan consensus on infrastructure. End-run around McCarthy, Scalise and Stefanik, yes, but necessary.
The Nancy Pelosi organization must also keep enough “progressives’ in the House in line, to get north of 215 votes on this important deal. If not her and her team, then someone else, perhaps the centrist New Democrat Coalition.
Speaker Pelosi should lead by example by engaging the Problem Solvers Caucus, a 58-member strong bipartisan group in the House, which has been discussing the parameters on infrastructure with the Senate’s Infrastructure Ten. These groups are reportedly close. Differences could be worked out in reconciliation.
Chuck Schumer needs to get his caucus behind the bipartisan plan, while Mitch will likely miss another opportunity to miss an opportunity. Stop hoping for profiles in courage from Leader McConnell.
The Congressional “Gang” approach should be revived. When the “regular order” of committee deliberations fails, the Congressional “gang” approach should be deployed. Party leaders should revive what political scientists call “deliberative negotiation”, where groups of moderates from both sides of the aisle make compromises, as we are seeing with the Infrastructure Ten. This has worked in the past on health care, immigration, the debt ceiling and the filibuster. This process can be deployed to bridge gaps and pass legislation.
If deliberative negotiation works for infrastructure, it could become part of the Washington landscape in 2021–24. With an appropriate number of senior members of Congress and executive branch leaders, deals could be negotiated.
Procedures should include: regular meetings of “gang” members to create a climate of trust; utilization of non-partisan expert commissions to propose reforms; linkage of low and high priority issues; and, the involvement of state and local governments when needed to implement initiatives, utilizing the National Governors Association to do so.
At the final stage of negotiations, a senior group could be empowered to make decisions. These initiatives — many of them elaborated in the report, “Negotiating Agreement in Politics”, of the American Political Science Association (APSA) — could serve to counter the pernicious trend toward polarization in America, lo these many years.
This proposal for “deliberative negotiation” is in no way designed to compromise the democratic process, as all legislation must be voted on by both houses of Congress. Deliberative negotiation simply empowers centrists to put legislation on the agenda that reflects majority opinion and has been considered by non-partisan experts.
Scenarios. President Biden’s active and enthusiastic engagement to shepherd a win for bipartisanship (and for civilization, quite frankly) is essential. It won’t work without him and his team. Funny thing is, when someone leads — really leads — like Joe Biden can do, others follow.
Sure, one scenario is that the bipartisan infrastructure deal results in a splintering off of partisan D’s (the Progressive Caucus and its supporters) and partisan R’s (the Freedom Caucus and its acolytes scurrying to assume the Orange mantle). However, another scenario is that when leaders lead — leaders like Biden, the Infrastructure Ten, the Problem Solvers Caucus, and hopefully party leaders such as Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, and Liz Cheney — others will follow. Especially on a solid infrastructure bill, fully funded.
Caveat: I of course would prefer the lion’s share of the reported ~$600 billion of infrastructure spending to go into a low carbon transformation, and that other non-green projects be backloaded to a time when the country’s finances are healthier. However, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I yield to the Infrastructure Ten.
Let’s name them btw (from CNN):
- Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
- Sen. Jon Tester of Montana
- Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia
- Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine
- Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska
- Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
- Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah
Sources: https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/10/politics/infrastructure-deal-announced-10-senators/index.html; https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/11/congress-bipartisan-house-493269; https://www.apsanet.org/negotiating; https://news.yahoo.com/rep-jayapal-sen-kristen-gillibrand-181951110.html; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-infrastructure-bill-ends-negotiations-republican-senators/; https://www.politico.com/story/2011/07/gang-of-six-back-from-the-brink-059345; https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/02/sanderss-pricey-tax-and-spending-plans/607105/; https://countrysuccess.net/