Two of the most powerful groups that helped to get President Joe Biden elected—labor and environmental advocacy organizations—are urging the White House to reject any bipartisan bill that doesn't protect workers and doesn't tackle climate change. The bipartisan group of 21 is meeting again Tuesday with White House staff, and from what we've learned about their efforts thus far, the bill won’t meet either of those goals.
The BlueGreen Alliance of labor and environmental groups wrote to both Biden and congressional leaders to inform them that its members are "troubled by recent proposals" that are "watered down," and said that now is not the time for "small-minded" proposals. "We urge you to ensure that this investment is as bold and transformative as our current moment demands and reject short-sighted proposals that would delay or weaken economic recovery, and that may fracture the broad array of constituencies and organizations that are unified in support of more ambitious proposals," the letter said.
That's as the bipartisan group is coming together around a plan that is most definitely not answering the call. (This is according to a four-page memo that has circulated on Capitol Hill and was reviewed by Politico.) The top-line spending is heavily larded on the side of keeping the fossil fuel industry alive by spending $360 billion on roads and bridges, but just $48.5 billion for public transit. Beth Osborne, director for Transportation for America, an advocacy organization made up of local, regional, and state leaders, points out that this is a sharp deviation from established transportation goals, where the highway-transit split has been 80-20. This one would split that 90-10, "the worst deal for transit since 1982," Osborne says. This is happening exactly when the climate demands solutions to get people out of their cars.
This is precisely why the majority of Democrats aren't participating in the bipartisan talks, and why a growing number are demanding a two-part process. They will not support a bipartisan bill that doesn't adequately address climate change if a budget reconciliation bill that can pass with just Democratic votes isn't passed simultaneously. While Democrats are demanding that, Republicans are blatantly telling them that they're just in this whole negotiating process in hopes they can peel off enough moderate Democrats to prevent a reconciliation bill.
Note that at the same time, no Republican is standing up and promising that they'll actually vote for any package that might come out of these negotiations. Note also that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't tipping his hand on this, arguing against any deal. McConnell, just like Moran, has been crystal clear about his objectives. He just said it out loud back in May: "100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration … 100% of my focus is on standing up to this administration." He promised his caucus is behind him: "What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country."
How likely is it that the Republicans in this bipartisan group are stringing Democrats along to draw support from a reconciliation bill, only to pull the rug out from under the whole thing and refuse to pass the bipartisan plan? Extremely.
The other expenditures are, according to Politico: "$66 billion for rail; $55 billion for water infrastructure; $65 billion for broadband and $73 billion for power infrastructure. In addition, the group is proposing spending $47.2 billion on climate resiliency, $25 billion for airports, $10 billion on electric buses and $16 billion for ports." As a benchmark, Biden's original proposal for $2.25 trillion on the American Jobs Plan includes $115 billion to modernize bridges, highways, and roads. It has another $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for Amtrak, and $174 billion to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, to electrify 20% of school buses, and to electrify the federal fleet. He'd spend $100 billion on broadband, $25 billion for airports, and $111 billion for water projects.
With Biden ruling out either gas taxes or fees on electric vehicles as revenue measures and Republicans ruling out raising taxes on rich people, how it's paid for remains the rub. The group now is leaning into the idea that they can strengthen IRS enforcement of current tax law to garner as much as $700 billion. The rest they'll probably still want to steal from COVID-19 relief funds.
As far as anyone knows, they're also still talking up those "public-private partnerships" Republicans always love; privatization schemes, in other words. A document circulating from one of the Republicans in the group last week detailed "public/private partnerships" and "asset recycling" and "leveraging private investment," all of which entail selling infrastructure off to the highest bidder—which was Trump's big idea back during his many infrastructure weeks.
At American Prospect, David Dayen has critical background for considering just how disastrous this could be, echoing the arguments Democrats made in opposing the idea when Trump was putting it forward. "The biggest money-makers would be favored, they said, and less lucrative projects in rural or impoverished areas shunned," Dayen writes. "Governments would not only lose ownership but democratic control over roads, water systems, electrical grids, and who knows what else. As companies manage costs, it could lead to less resilient, more dangerous infrastructure. And the public would have a high likelihood of being gouged."
Every road or bridge you travel that was acquired by private investors could end up a tollway. And if it's not generating enough revenue, it's not going to be maintained. It's also likely to end up costing municipalities—and taxpayers—even more. Dayen provides some recent examples, like Chicago's decision to sell off 36,000 parking meters to an investment group in 2009. "Chicago drivers will pay $11.6 billion over the 75-year life of the deal to park, and fees are scheduled to rise as much as 800 percent." When the streets that those parking meters are on are shut down for public events, the city has to pay the private owner of the meters for lost revenue. That's not a good deal for anyone.
"Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors," Food & Water Watch’s Mary Grant said in a statement to Dayen. "It is nothing more than an outrageously expensive way to borrow funds, with the ultimate bill paid back by households and local businesses in the form of higher rates." It's not a scheme that any Democrat should be getting anywhere near.