Three months ago, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this in response to CNN asking if Democrats could have done more to bring Republicans along on the COVID-19 relief package: "No." He elaborated: "We made a big mistake in 2009 and '10. Susan Collins was part of that mistake. […] We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years." We all cheered for the fact that Democrats had finally seemed to learn from the awfully scarring fight that was pretty much the whole of the Obama administration.
We all cheered when President Joe Biden told a bunch of Republican senators "he will not slow down on work on this urgent crisis response, and will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment." And when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, "The president wants this to be a bipartisan package, regardless of the mechanisms. Republicans can still vote for a package even it goes through reconciliation," progressives were enthralled.
When Biden held his first press conference, he put Republicans on the spot for opposing that relief package. He called them out. "Did you hear them complain when they passed close to a $2 trillion Trump tax cut—83% going to the top 1%? Did you hear them talk about that all?" Biden asked. "When the federal budget is saving people's lives, they don't think it's such a good idea," he continued. "When the federal budget is feathering the nest of the wealthiest Americans—90 of the Fortune 500 companies making billions of dollars not paying a cent in taxes […] if you’re a husband and wife, a schoolteacher and a cop, you’re paying at a higher rate than the average person making a billion dollars a year is—something is wrong."
So what in the hell happened since March? How can it be that in 2021, Jim Messina of all people is telling Biden that he's being strung along by Republicans? Messina was Obama's deputy chief of staff, the administration's "fixer," and as a longtime aide and friend of Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the guy who was responsible for convincing Obama and others that the ConservaDem Baucus should be put in charge of health care reform negotiations with Republicans. We all remember how that worked out.
Well, so does Messina, and now he's telling Biden to stop chasing after Republicans. He's urging Biden not to "make that mistake again" on infrastructure. "When you look back on my ACA days, it should’ve been apparent to us at the time. We waited too long," Messina said. "The biggest thing is that they keep asking for more time. And they're just running the clock," he said of Republicans. "If you're McConnell he's going to talk for as long as we want to talk, because he's just trying to be an obstructionist."
Yes! That, exactly that, and the thing is that McConnell doesn't even try to hide that this is exactly what he's doing. One minute he's baldly stating that he is 100% committed to blocking Biden's agenda, and that he's got "total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country." At the same time, he's disingenuously telling reporters there’s a "great chance" of a bipartisan infrastructure agreement while flatly refusing every concession Biden continues to make.
That includes this week. "We're still hoping to reach a bipartisan agreement with the (Biden) administration on infrastructure," he said at a news conference Thursday morning in Paducah, Kentucky. "We're still hoping we can come to an agreement on a fully paid for and significant infrastructure package. I know that would be welcomed by all state governments and local governments all over the country."
That's just out and out trolling! McConnell is insisting that funding for infrastructure comes out of unspent COVID-19 relief funds that would otherwise go, in part at least, to state and local governments—the funding he had been fighting as a "blue state bailout" since April 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. McConnell succeeded in blocking coronavirus relief for months on end while House Democrats kept on passing legislation.
This. Is. What. He. Does. He did it in the middle of a fucking global pandemic that was destroying the economy. He did it when there was a Republican president simply because he did not want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic House to have a win.
He's doing it now on infrastructure, and Biden is playing his game. Even Jim Messina sees that! He's continuing to let Sen. Shelley Moore Capito—who McConnell has deputized and who he talked to both before and after her meeting with Biden Thursday—take up his valuable time when he isn't even expecting a real offer.
Meanwhile, the concessions from the White House keep coming. His $2.3 trillion absolutely necessary infrastructure plan has been halved to $1 trillion in new spending. The tax hike to 28% that he was going to impose on corporations has been axed, with a new minimum tax of 15%.
Republicans have committed to no more than $257 billion in new spending spread out over eight years, so about $32 billion in new spending per year. And that money, they have insisted, must come from new user fees imposed on all of us. And with that paltry offering, they've somehow put themselves in the driver's seat! Because they can. Because the deadlines Biden has kept on setting he has allowed to lapse. Every time. "Republican leaders are still deciding whether to put forward another counteroffer or to walk away from the negotiations entirely, according to a second source familiar with the talks," The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The momentum from passing the American Rescue Plan has all but dissipated. The bold and energizing message from the White House on what bipartisanship really is—"Republican voters agree with what I'm doing"—has been muted.
It's not too late to regain momentum because Biden plans remain very popular, but not without Biden pushing them.
And doing it now.