Bipartisanship Watch

Follow-up — Bernie Sanders goes to bat for Reconciliation to get more spending…

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shares a laugh as he warms up before his baseball game against the Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation at the Field of Dreams Baseball field on August 19, 2019 in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images); From Common Dreams

The strategy of “progressives” is to wait for the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations (of the “Infrastructure Ten”) discussed in my last Bipartisanship Watch post to fail in order to move their spending priorities forward in reconciliation.

The Politico article excerpted below argues that Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking a quiet but determined approach to preparing an alternative reconciliation bill, replete with all of President Biden’s spending items. He is on deck, warming up, swinging his bat.

Perhaps Bernie is doing this so as not to anger Commissioner Gordon (aka Joe Biden), his mate on the other end of the “bat phone”, whilst his more combative “progressive” teammates, taking a page from the Joker, rip into those engaged in bipartisanship. Ok, enough Batman. Apparently, Bernie and Joe speak often.

Now, I agree with some of the priorities being crammed into the reconciliation bill, such as the low-carbon transition measures. But overall, as argued before, the Biden plans are too expensive.

Focused on spending priorities, what this debate among Democrats is missing is the even more pivotal imperative to save the Republic through an ongoing, well-oiled process of bipartisanship.

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. When the “regular order” of committee deliberations fails, the Congressional “gang” approach should be deployed. 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.

But, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders have a great deal to lose should bipartisanship work. Their “value proposition”, i.e., their political reason for being, is partisanship, not working together. Don’t believe me. Hear from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez herself, criticizing Joe Manchin’s bipartisanship (from MSN):

“The things that he cites, like this, I think, romanticism of bipartisanship is about an era of Republicans that simply do not exist anymore,” Ocasio-Cortez said, before alluding to CNBC’s report last week on the pressure that the political advocacy group backed by billionaire Charles Koch puts on Manchin to oppose key parts of the Democratic agenda, such as filibuster reform and voting rights legislation.

“You have the Koch brothers and associated organizations from the Koch brothers really doing victory laps about Joe Manchin’s opposition to the filibuster,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

“I think that it’s pretty open that these groups exert a lot of influence as they can on members of Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I think that the older school way of accepting the role of lobbyists in Washington absolutely has a role in Joe Manchin’s thinking.”

I ask you, how full are her campaign coffers? Who are the special interest groups funding AOC’s and Bernie’s causes and candidates? Yeah, I know tons of $15 checks.

You cannot rail against the corrupting system of campaign finance — and it is a big problem, not least in the partisanship it can create — out of one side of your mouth, while taking cash in with both hands. (I love mixing idioms and metaphors.) For more on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign finance successes, see Politico.

Getting back to the business of strengthening the Republic — President Biden, the “Infrastructure Ten”, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, Speaker Pelosi, the New Democrat Coalition, Leader Schumer, Rep. Cheney and others, please take the long view, step up, step up soon, to get bipartisanship off the ground. Negotiation is like playing the piano. You must practice every day.

Otherwise, the loud complainers on the partisan left and the partisan right could derail efforts at cooperation that just might save the Republic in the long run.

One last point. For his part, Leader Schumer, and his slim majority in the Senate, benefit from Sen. Manchin (and now Sen. Sinema) bearing the brunt of the “progressive” attack, as argued in this article.

From Politico, on Bernie:


Why Bernie’s not sweating White House’s infrastructure dance with GOP

As other progressives demand Biden end bipartisan negotiations, Sanders is instead working on the next package.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders gives an opening statement during a Senate Budget Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. | Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images


06/13/2021 07:57 PM EDT

As liberals increasingly rebuke President Joe Biden for his ongoing negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators, one prominent progressive lawmaker is staying out of the fray.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the biggest name in national progressive politics, has not expressed concern about clean energy policies not making it into a final infrastructure bill. Nor is he among those loudly criticizing the White House for ongoing talks with GOP lawmakers. That’s because as a group of Republican and Democratic senators are trying to craft a bipartisan deal, Sanders is working in the background, helping jumpstart the next reconciliation package that seems likely to serve as the fallback option. And the text of that bill has yet to be written.

From the beginning, Sanders has said Democrats should forgo rounds of negotiations with Republicans on a smaller, traditional infrastructure bill that addresses roads, bridges, and broadband. Instead, he’s argued that Democrats should immediately push a larger bill along party lines.

The White House has been hesitant to abandon talks with centrist Democrats and Republicans, leading a growing number of progressive lawmakers in both chambers to decry the slow pace of negotiations. This past week a handful of Democratic senators shot off warning tweets at the White House, threatening to withhold support for infrastructure bills without climate change provisions included in the one expected to pass with only Democrats. But Sanders didn’t join the chorus.

“He’s focused on building momentum for a reconciliation bill that will be the most consequential legislation for working people enacted since the 1930s,” said a Sanders aide.

Sanders isn’t as concerned as other progressives are about their priorities being left out of the overall infrastructure package because the budget process is only just beginning, the aide added. And Sanders believes strong climate provisions — one of his biggest priorities — will be in a reconciliation bill.

At the same time, Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has communicated to the White House that he thinks the bipartisan talks should wrap up, a source familiar with his interactions with the White House said.

The White House is in regular touch with both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sanders about infrastructure priorities, according to a White House official, who described its relationship with Sanders as strong. A Sanders aide also confirmed that the senator is in close touch with the White House and Schumer.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

What the final reconciliation package looks like and which committees are responsible for various parts of it remains to be decided. When bipartisan talks end — with or without a deal in hand — different factions of Democratic lawmakers will start to haggle among themselves over the legislative language of the reconciliation package.

Some Democrats are optimistic their priorities won’t be left behind because of Biden’s repeated comments that “inaction” on his entire package — which includes money for eldercare, childcare and K-12 and higher education — is unacceptable. Some progressives are sanguine, too, that the bipartisan talks will fail because they’ve repeatedly stalled over disagreements on how much total to spend and how to pay for the narrower bill.

As those talks have continued, high-profile Democrats — from former vice president Al Gore to John Podesta — have pressed Biden to keep climate provisions in any final package that passes. The White House has said it planned to do so. On three recent occasions, it cited a shortfall on climate issues as a reason it rejected GOP compromise offers. That included when press secretary Jen Psaki noted why Biden broke off talks with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)

“He informed Sen. Capito today that the latest offer from her group did not, in his view, meet the essential needs of our country to restore our roads and bridges, prepare us for our clean energy future, and create jobs,” Psaki said on June 8.

Liberals were steamed when Biden nonetheless returned to bipartisan talks with yet another group of senators. But this time, instead of only Republicans, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were part of the negotiations — a clear signal the two were not yet persuaded to support an infrastructure bill or a reconciliation package that would include it. While progressives have pushed for Biden to break off talks and force a vote, White House allies argue that’s short-sighted.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on June 9, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. | Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

“Exhausting the bipartisan process around infrastructure — whether it gets to a deal Biden can accept or not — could actually help Manchin, Sinema and others get to ‘yes’ on whatever eventually emerges,” said Ben LaBolt, a former Obama aide and Democratic strategist close to the White House. “Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president and he will know not to wait for Godot if Republicans don’t engage in a good faith process. But to get to a good legislative outcome, it always made strategic sense to engage both parties in the Senate.”

The White House has held steadfast to its strategy, which is to continue attempting at a deal with Republicans but, at the same time, move forward with the bureaucratic necessities in the Senate should no deal materialize.

“The president is fighting to deliver historic infrastructure investments that will generate economic growth, create middle class jobs, ensure our leadership in clean energy, and advance our competitiveness in the world,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said. “He and his team are engaged in good faith bipartisan negotiations towards that goal, and at the same time see multiple paths forward.”

But unease is growing among more and more Democratic senators the longer the infrastructure negotiations with Republicans continue.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) was one of multiple Democrats who warned about the exclusion of climate policies last week. A clean energy package that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee in May consolidated clean energy tax breaks and made them contingent upon emissions reduction. It is expected to be a central piece of the final package.

Wyden would need “ironclad assurances that reconciliation would move forward with robust climate, clean energy legislation to support moving anything on a separate track in a bipartisan way,” said a Senate Democratic aide.

The Biden administration says a dual-track approach is exactly what it’s pursuing, but progressive anxiety is reaching a boiling point. The longer it takes to pass infrastructure, progressives argue, the less time Biden will have to focus on other big agenda items. And voters are waiting for more aid to deal with the economic stressors brought on by the pandemic, they say.

“There’s no question they’re working hard and I don’t question their good intentions,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveON said of the White House. “Our concern is the dynamics in Congress are really slowing the progress.”

“We’re very worried and we need to turn up the heat,” Epting added. “Business as usual is not what people voted for.”

Notes: See Brookings and UMich press on campaign finance.

Roger teaches political economy at NYU, is the former Head of Country Risk at GE, & co-author of Ten Point Plan for the U.S. (