Opinion | White House

Bipartisan infrastructure win shows Democrats must continue working across the aisle

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The Senate's vote on Wednesday to take up a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill was a big win for bipartisanship, and a big win for President Biden.

The 67-to-32 procedural vote, which included 17 Republicans, came just hours after a group of centrist Senators finished negotiating enough details to begin official consideration of the legislation. Though the bill has a ways to go in the Senate and the House, this procedural vote was an encouraging step in the right direction.

For years, lawmakers have repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to put together a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. I applaud President Biden and the group of bipartisan Senators for their efforts, and for showing Americans that cooperation and genuine progress are still possible, even in our deeply polarized political climate.

That said, as Biden and congressional Democrats turn their focus to the remainder of Biden's agenda - namely, the priorities in their $3.5 trillion "family infrastructure" package - I would strongly urge those in my party to continue reaching across the aisle to their moderate G.O.P. colleagues. 

Indeed, Democrats should approach the priorities in their massive $3.5 trillion bill - childcare, education, and clean energy investments - on an issue-by-issue basis in a bipartisan fashion, rather than ramming through one of the largest government expenditures in history on a simple party line vote through the Senate's budget reconciliation process.

Democrats would benefit - both practically and politically - from proceeding cautiously with these negotiations and not allowing colleagues like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to control the process.

From a practical perspective, proceeding cautiously and incrementally is the only sensical approach to take during such uncertain times - given the specter of inflation and a potential slowdown in the economy (or even a recession) as federal assistance to families is phased out in September. This economic uncertainty is further compounded by the recent growth in COVID-19 cases due to the highly infectious Delta variant.

Furthermore, a report by The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan non-profit public policy organization, found that the actual price tag of the bill would be closer to $5-$5.5 trillion over the next decade - an even more debt-increasing, inflationary, and unnecessary amount.

"While the actual cost of this new legislation will ultimately depend heavily on details that have yet to be revealed, we estimate the policies under consideration could cost between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion over a decade, assuming they are made permanent," the report says.

Moreover, Democrats ramming this $3.5 trillion bill through on party lines will have costly political consequences. And in my experience working in the White House, working across party lines leads to both meaningful reform as well as electoral success.

I was hired by Bill Clinton in 1994 following one of the worst blow-out defeats Democrats have ever faced in a midterm election, when 34 Democratic House incumbents were defeated, which gave Republicans control of the chamber. This defeat was in large part due to the rejection by voters of Democratic lawmakers for passing -without any Republican support - the then-largest tax increase in history. 

However, Democrats have a clear opportunity to avoid a similar political fate this time around by making an effort to work with their G.O.P. colleagues on the rest of Biden's agenda. 

After Republicans took back control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections, we worked with Republicans in Congress towards a balanced budget and welfare reform, both of which had bipartisan support. In 1996, President Clinton won his second term by a landslide, and he left office under an economic surplus.

However, the Democrats' failure to be incremental and bipartisan now in their approach to the rest of Biden's agenda could put the party in the minority and Congress in 2022, and could also make a Republican victory in the 2024 presidential election much more likely.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an advisor to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is "The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat."

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