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President Biden has been trying to negotiate an infrastructure plan with Senate Republicans for at least a month. He's made some significant concessions, they've increased what they're willing to spend by a small amount, but there's still an enormous gulf between them, with no signs of any way of bridging it.

A big part of the problem is that Biden is trying to include a number of progressive proposals, such as affordable housing and clean energy. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack this in smaller pieces rather than trying to pass a single, multi-trillian$ bill at once? This all-or-nothing process is almost certainly bound to fail, and each side will be able to blame the other.

Isn't it better to get something done than nothing? Or is the risk that once something passes, the GOP will say that they accomplished an infrastructure bill and not even come to the table for anything else?

Of course, there's no guarantee that even these smaller pieces could pass, when McConnell has vowed to obstruct Biden at every turn (much as he did when Obama was in the White House). But it seems like it has a better chance than what he's trying now.

UPDATE:

On June 24 Biden reached agreement with Senate Republicans on a $1.2 trillion plan that just addresses traditional infrastructure needs. So I guess this question is moot.

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  • Assuming good faith in a big omnibus bill there could be measures that congressmen or senators would vote down if presented separately. Assuming malice in a big omnibus bill it is easier to hide measures that could raise suspects of corruption.
    – FluidCode
    Jun 9 at 13:19
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    Biden is basing his policy agenda on a broader, more expansive (and accurate) definition of "infrastructure" than the reductive definition Republicans are trying to promote.
    – spring
    Jun 29 at 1:13
  • @spring I know, that's the progressive protocols. And after he made last week's deal he hinted that he wants passage to be contingent on the broader goals, but he dialed that back over the weekend.
    – Barmar
    Jun 29 at 1:25
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A big part of the problem is that Biden is trying to include a number of progressive proposals, such as affordable housing and clean energy. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack this in smaller pieces rather than trying to pass a single, multi-trillian$ bill at once?

No, because things like "affordable housing" and "clean energy" are less popular with people generally than "infrastructure" is.

I put these items in quotes because the actual policy specifics matter less than what these words mean in the minds of voters.

Your average voter is likely going to be in favor of the government spending money on infrastructure, regardless of their party affiliation, because there is a bipartisan sense that spending money on infrastructure is part of what the government is supposed to do, and it is good for the economy for the government to do it at the right times. Things like affordable housing and clean energy are not similarly popular, there's a pretty stark opinion divide along party lines about whether these things are things the government should do at all, as well as what priority they should have given other concerns that the government needs to address.

Given that, and the current divided makeup of Congress which makes passing partisan bills into law very difficult, the approach of having separate bills to address progressive policy priorities is likely to fail to result in those policies being implemented.

Even though it would be more rational to create separate bills from the point of view of having coherent policy, that would result in progressives getting next to nothing that they want. By hitching those goals onto a bill about something else that is more popular, there is (or was) a chance that they will be able to pass some aspect of what they want, rather than nothing of what they want. Hence, "child care" is now considered "infrastructure", even though nobody would have ever argued this before 2021.

Isn't it better to get something done than nothing?

That depends on what you value getting done. Some people want the government to get things done, generally. Other people want the government to do only specific things. Other people don't really care what the government actually accomplishes, but wants showy moments where they can perform on cable news and the internet according to what their voters what to see. All of those people are participating in the legislative process and therefore steer it towards this conclusion.

Or is the risk that once something passes, the GOP will say that they accomplished an infrastructure bill and not even come to the table for anything else?

The GOP is not going to come to the table for anything else anyway; they were not sent to Congress to pass progressive policy priorities. The only question was whether or not Democrats could get a few of them into voting to pass some policies they would otherwise not under the guise of "infrastructure."

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  • But by combining the bills Dems didn't get anything they wanted, and they also didn't get traditional infrastructure. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Biden eventually relented last week and agreed to a traditional infrastructure bill.
    – Barmar
    Jun 29 at 14:40
  • If the idea was to attach progressive policies to something the GOP would agree with, that attempt clearly failed.
    – Barmar
    Jun 29 at 14:42
  • Right, but it still had a better chance of succeeding than doing absolutely nothing, or by passing smaller progressive bills in series through the normal process.
    – Joe
    Jun 29 at 14:53
  • I guess this was essentially like a house seller starting with an extreme asking price, to see how much they can get. If it works, great; if not, they revert to the market price.
    – Barmar
    Jun 29 at 14:58
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Democrats hope to use Reconciliation again

They used it once before to pass a stimulus bill and the Senate Parliamentarian said they could use it again. But she recently constrained them to one more usage

The new guidance, issued to Senate staff on Friday, suggests that Democrats will get just one more try this year to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package to enact additional priorities ranging from infrastructure to immigration policy proposed by President Joe Biden and party leaders on Capitol Hill. If they want to use reconciliation yet again, they'd need to adopt a fiscal 2023 budget resolution next year, but would likely get only one shot then as well.

If they can convince Joe Manchin to join them (as he did in the previous effort) then they don't need any Republican support.

The Democrats want to take credit for any post-COVID recovery

While opinions on the effects of government spending on recoveries is debatable, the political angle is to spend a lot of money and then claim credit when the economy improves

“While far more work remains to ensure that the economy provides opportunity for every American, there can be no question that President Obama’s actions to date have laid the groundwork for stronger, more sustainable economic growth in the years ahead,” Furman said.

You can still act like there is an emergency

Covid-19 might mostly be over now, but enough remains to still claim there is an emergency need. Remember, the American Rescue Plan Act (2021 stimulus) was almost entirely deficit spending

The U.S. spent $927 billion in March alone — more than double the level from March 2020 — a jump due primarily to the disbursal of tens of millions of $1,400 stimulus payments under Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Meanwhile, tax revenues stayed largely flat, with the government only collecting slightly more than last March.

The resulting deficit is the third largest ever in American history, Treasury officials said, eclipsed only by April and June of last year — when the U.S. authorized larger levels of emergency spending to head off the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The monthly deficit had contracted relative to the summer months as federal spending expired and the U.S. economy began to heal. Many economists and lawmakers clamored for the additional spending as necessary to help the economy recovery from one of the worst shocks in decades, with millions of workers still out of a job.

It's highly likely this omnibus spending bill will also contain insufficient revenues to pay for all the expenses, driving the deficit up even higher. Very few Americans are concerned about the national debt, something Biden is banking on

According to the White House, this additional spending will produce the economic equivalent of happily-ever-after. The nation will enjoy faster growth, full employment and modest inflation that never rises above 2.3 percent, a magic number that would not require the Federal Reserve to take any heavy-handed action. In short, there would be no negative side effects.

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  • Indeed, it seems like after today's negotiations fell apart, Biden has left instructions with his cabinet to work on something smaller that they can get through the Senate with reconciliation, while he goes off on an international trip.
    – Barmar
    Jun 9 at 3:03
  • This does not answer the question.
    – spring
    Jun 29 at 1:08
  • @spring I think the question is too confusing, 'cause I can't figure out whether your statement is true or not. This answer was an interesting read at least!
    – Brilliand
    Sep 29 at 22:17

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