White House races clock to beat GOP attacks

President Biden is facing a ticking clock as he seeks to shepherd a massive infrastructure bill through Congress that is his next big legislative priority.

The complicated set of policy proposals funded in part by hiking the corporate tax rate and closing other loopholes divides Democrats and is likely to have unified GOP opposition.

It’s being offered as Biden rides a wave of momentum following the successful passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, and the quick rollout of vaccinations that has helped keep his approval ratings high.

But the longer the bill lies in Congress, the longer the GOP has to attack it, a vulnerability that Democrats know all too well.

The White House has said that it would like to see “progress” on a bill by Memorial Day and passage by summer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week offered hope that the House might complete work on a package by July 4, before suggesting the real deadline might be the August recess.

“I would hope that our part in the House would be largely done before the Fourth of July,” she said Thursday. “Whether the whole package would be done then we just don’t know. But as some had suggested, we want to do it before the August break.”

The remarks reflected the reality that moving the package won’t be easy, even as Democrats signal they could use budgetary rules to move it without GOP support, avoiding a Senate filibuster in the process.

Democrats are already drawing red lines over tax provisions, including calls by some lawmakers representing suburban districts to end a Trump tax ceiling on deductions of state and local taxes that would make the package more expensive.

In the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says he opposes raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. Some on the left would like to raise that rate higher.

“Infrastructure packages are not quick bills,” said Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

He said the quick passage of the COVID-19 relief measure made it even more difficult for Republicans to build a case against it. The GOP will have more time with the infrastructure package, which is probably a better target than a bill that included $1,400 direct payments for most households in the first place.

That’s a problem for Democrats, as the longer the process takes, “the more time it gives Republicans to muddy the waters,” said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked for then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Biden is expected to meet in person with Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate on his $2.25 trillion proposal on Monday.

Allies say Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress are cognizant of maintaining momentum on their agenda with the 2022 midterms on the horizon. 

Republicans have vocally criticized Biden’s proposal for covering more than just traditional infrastructure and including a corporate tax hike.

While they had little success at making the COVID-19 relief bill less popular, they may be more successful turning voters’ minds against the infrastructure bill if it languishes in Congress. 

GOP strategists think voters can be convinced the Biden package is a liberal wish list.

“If you’re talking to voters, when they hear infrastructure, they think bridges, tunnels, roads,” Heye said. “Climate change isn’t infrastructure. The Green New Deal isn’t infrastructure.”

The proposal is designed to address climate change by investing in electric vehicles and upgrading the electric grid to make it more resilient. It also includes money for replacing lead pipes, expanded access to home care, universal high speed broadband access and upgrades to federal buildings, all of which the Biden administration argues encompass modern infrastructure. 

Biden and Democrats understand they need to move relatively quickly despite the complications.

“I think there’s a balancing act here between a complicated bill that deserves thorough and thoughtful consideration with lots of important moving pieces and something that is unnecessarily delayed so people can shoot at it,” said Sarah Bianchi, a former top economic adviser to Biden when he was vice president. “The White House is going to want to find that balance and I assume so are the leaders in Congress.”

Biden and Democrats have been determined to avoid the pitfalls of the last Democratic presidency, when former President Obama took well more than a year to get a heavily-Democratic Congress to approve his health care law.

“I think Democrats remember what happened with the Affordable Care Act,” said former Rep. Steve Israel, who also led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “They waited for Republicans to come to the table in bipartisanship, but that gave Republicans time and space to campaign against the measure. So it’s a tough balance between bipartisanship and expediency. 

“What Democrats have going for them is Schumer and Pelosi are maestros of timing,” Israel added.

Still, Biden faces an uphill climb in the weeks and months ahead, say Democrats.

“The last bill is going to seem like a walk in the park compared to what it’s going to take to get this one done,” said Jim Manley, a former Reid aide. “It’s going to take some time. The problem is there is not a lot of time.” 


Tags Barack Obama Coronavirus corporate tax rate COVID-19 Harry Reid Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Nancy Pelosi Steve Israel

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