White House says bills are bipartisan even if GOP doesn’t vote for them
The White House wants to change how people perceive bipartisanship, arguing that if they put forward proposals that are backed by Republicans and independents, they should be seen as bipartisan even if GOP lawmakers in Washington don’t vote for them.
The effort took shape as Democrats approved a massive and broadly popular $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure with zero GOP support, and continues as the party increasingly looks poised to move another $2.25 trillion infrastructure measure through Congress just with Democratic votes.
President Biden campaigned as a unity candidate who would work with Republicans, and the GOP increasingly has criticized him for turning his back on that vow with the big Democratic-only measures.
But the White House has shrugged off the criticism, vowing to take big actions at a critical moment to help the economy and address inequality and other needs it says have been ignored for too long.
Biden officials argue that the measures they are proposing have broad public support from members of both parties in polling, and that some of the ideas have been backed by GOP lawmakers in the past.
“Biden is taking a bet that Congress is more divided than the country and, with an ability to appeal directly to the voter on policy issues, he can circumvent a polarized Congress that will likely take a long time to get its act together in terms of working across the aisle,” said a Democratic strategist.
Republicans struggled to execute a coherent strategy to push back against Biden’s coronavirus bill, which funded, among other things, $1,400 direct payments that garnered support from a majority of Americans and Republican voters in particular. Former President Trump had also been a vocal supporter of direct payments.
The White House could also point to support among Republican governors and mayors, whose states and localities were hard hit by the pandemic, for the bill.
“Delivering for the American people is what the American Rescue Plan was all about,” Biden said in Pittsburgh this week as he unveiled his next legislative proposal, which mirrors the jobs plan he laid out on the campaign trail.
“It’s been overwhelmingly popular. If you live in a town with a Republican mayor, a Republican county executive, or a Republican governor, ask them how many would rather get rid of the plan. Ask them if it helped them at all. It’s what the American Jobs Plan is about — the new one I’m proposing.”
Asked about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) vocal opposition to the infrastructure package on Friday, Biden suggested Republican lawmakers will feel pressure from their voters to embrace his proposal, mentioning provisions that would replace lead pipes and repair veterans’ hospitals.
“I think the Republicans’ voters are going to have a lot to say about whether we get a lot of this done,” Biden told reporters.
Biden is sure to face a longer and more difficult battle getting his infrastructure and climate plan passed, however.
Republicans have railed against the proposal for raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and spending billions on electric cars and other investments to make the country more resilient to climate change. Meanwhile, some progressives have argued that the bill is not large enough and does not do enough to address climate change, complicating Biden’s efforts to keep his party together on a package.
Republicans believe that the longer it takes Congress to pass the infrastructure bill, the less popular it will be. They see the legislative work as an opportunity to make the case to voters that its components do not qualify as infrastructure, and that its tax hikes are bad policy.
“The Republican resistance toward the first stimulus bill was disorganized and futile,” said GOP strategist Colin Reed. “This is a mulligan for the Republicans. Hopefully, they do better this time.”
The White House says it hopes to get the bill across the finish line by summer but will allow time for Biden to meet with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on possible adjustments.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain said this week that Biden hopes the package will attract bipartisan support in Congress but made clear that was not a necessity, opening the door to passing a package using budget reconciliation — the same mechanism used pass the coronavirus bill and dodge a filibuster.
“We know it has bipartisan support in the country and so we’re going to try our best to get bipartisan support here in Washington,” Klain said during a virtual interview with Politico.
A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll found that a plurality of Republicans — 42 percent — support making improvements to infrastructure, but without tax increases. Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they support infrastructure improvements with tax increases.
The White House is also banking on support for the package among Republican mayors and governors, given the benefits of investments in improving infrastructure in local areas and keeping cities and states vibrant.
“[Biden is] changing the locus or the locale of bipartisanship,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, noting that bipartisan work is historically seen as situated in the halls of Congress. “Now, we are shifting that out into the countryside.”
Republicans reject the notion that a bill can be bipartisan if it isn’t passed with bipartisan support in Washington.
“The reality is, if you’re going through budget reconciliation on something, you’re doing that because you’re not going to get bipartisan support,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist and ex-deputy chief of staff to former GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).
In countering arguments from Republicans, the White House is expected to drive home the notion that aspects of the infrastructure package — like expansion of apprenticeships and funding for new roads and bridges — have bipartisan support.
Democrats argue that Biden’s approach will serve them well, particularly if the economy is doing well when voters go to the polls for the 2022 midterm elections.
“It takes two to be a unity president. I think Republicans have been reflexive in saying no, and I certainly don’t think it hurt Biden with the stimulus bill,” Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at centrist Democratic think tank Third Way. “What I expect the White House to do is to begin to redefine what bipartisan means. If the overall bill includes a lot of items that have broad bipartisan support, they’ll point to those pieces.”
The White House will define bipartisanship, Kessler said, “not on what happens on the final vote of the bill but on the level of bipartisanship in the elements that make up the major pieces.”