This isn't Democrats’ first rodeo, and they seem to be tiring quickly of the GOP's shell game on Biden's legacy proposal to spend $4 trillion on the way to overhauling the U.S. economy and creating millions of new jobs.
In response, Republicans have put forward a $500 billion proposal as a counteroffer on Biden's $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, not to mention his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. But even the GOP's top-line response to Biden's jobs plan seems more like an offering of crumbs where Biden is trying to give the nation a full loaf.
Few people serve as a better gauge of the conference than Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a staunch progressive but also one who holds the rare Democratic seat in a state that definitively leans red now.
“I’m always trying with Republicans, but they’ve shown no real good faith on this,” Sen. Brown told Politico. “What they want to do on infrastructure and families is just short of pathetic.”
Brown told Politico that he assumed Senate Democrats would be forced to use reconciliation to pass Biden's investment plans on a party-line vote, even as the White House has made a point of publicly inviting ideas and proposals from GOP senators.
Brown's pessimism was shared by several other Democratic senators who spoke to the outlet. Not that any serious observer of Washington politics really imagines Republicans will show up and deal in good faith. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell fashioned his entire tenure as leader of the GOP caucus on making sure Democrats fail rather than helping the nation succeed. But Democrats' rapid movement toward going it alone is still a notable break from the past and the dawning of a new day in Washington.
“The train is leaving,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, noting that if Republicans didn't demonstrate a willingness to negotiate up on their $568 billion proposal, that would basically signal game over. Democrats, Blumenthal added, stood to "get a lot more" by negotiating among themselves rather than "chase our tail around and hope for this bipartisan mirage that is just over the horizon ... and keeps moving over the horizon.”
Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania downplayed the notion that Republicans could get on board with anything as "bold" as what Biden is proposing. Instead he suggested the jobs and families plans might wind up being consolidated into a single bigger package that gets passed via reconciliation.
“People want us to get big things done — and if that means we can do it in a bipartisan fashion, that’s great," Casey said. "I just don’t have confidence that that’s going to happen.”
All of these sentiments are in line with the posture of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has indicated he wants to work with Republicans but also doubts they will be amenable to voting for anything that rolls back portions of their 2017 tax giveaway to the rich. McConnell has basically said as much.
“We will look for bipartisanship wherever we can," Schumer said, "but the No. 1 goal is the big, bold plan along the lines of what President Biden has proposed.”
In other words, Democrats are committed to keeping their eyes on the prize, and the once shiny object of bipartisanship doesn't have near the luster it once did after Republicans demonstrated they would oppose everything ever proposed by a Democratic president.
For their part, Republicans already seem resigned to the idea of waiting to see what Democrats can accomplish on their own. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told Politico he expected Democrats to move Biden's spending initiatives solo if they could. But if they can't unite the caucus, Cornyn added, “maybe they’ll come back and talk to Sen. [Shelley Moore] Capito and those of us that are interested in doing a bipartisan bill.”
In some ways, Republican senators even talking about being “interested” in a bipartisan bill now is an admission of just how popular much of Biden's jobs plan is and how indefensible their previous position was proving to be.
In late March, the GOP's No. 2, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, was promising that Republicans wouldn't "take the bait" if Democrats did one bipartisan bill and then advanced another bill using reconciliation because they knew Republicans didn't support its priorities. It was a laughable position on two fronts. First, Republicans obviously realize now that they can't be seen by the public as adopting total opposition to a plan that promises to create millions of good-paying jobs—or a "blue-collar blueprint" to bring America into the 21st century, as Biden put it Wednesday in his address to a joint session to Congress.
Second, if you're not the party of obstruction for the sake of obstructing, why not take the win of voting for the proposal on which you can find common ground and then stick Democrats with passing the other initiative, particularly if you're so certain the other bill will be a political albatross?
In any case, Republicans have moved just far enough away from total obstruction to at least claim they were trying to be part of the solution—even if their solution amounts to a pile of day-old crumbs on a bakery floor.
For now, Democrats get the benefit of field testing all of Biden's proposals as poll after poll tests different initiatives with the public. Biden also had the opportunity on Wednesday to sell the public on his bigger vision for leading the nation into a new era—giving the American public a framework for how the separate initiatives in his proposals amount to overhauling the economy and restoring the nation's competitive edge on a global scale.
Viewers, who skewed heavily Democratic (54% Democrats, 25% independents, 18% Republicans), walked away feeling more optimistic, according to two separate polls by CBS News and CNN. That optimism held true across the partisan spectrum despite the Democratic lean of the viewership. CNN writes:
Speech-watchers said that Biden's policy proposals would move the country in the right direction (73%) rather than the wrong direction (27%). In a survey conducted before the speech, the same people were a bit less bullish that Biden would lead in the right direction (67% right direction, 33% wrong direction), and that movement came from the independents and Republicans who watched the speech. Among Republicans, the share saying Biden's policies would move the country in the right direction grew from 13% pre-speech to 27% post-speech, while among independents, that percentage rose from 61% to 73%.
So as Democrats move into a phase of drafting actual legislation, they will likely fold in all of the most popular initiatives while potentially excluding what Democratic outliers like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona don't like. But expect that internal negotiation to become public, because both Manchin and Sinema seem to require a public display of their special specialness before they'll approve anything, even if the American people are clamoring for it.
One other person who might dictate what goes in and stays out of any Democratic reconciliation package is the Senate parliamentarian—who ultimately ruled out a $15 minimum wage increase in Biden's pandemic relief plan. Whether Democrats should be letting the whims of the parliamentarian define Biden's legacy is questionable.
But as Sen. Blumenthal observed, “our chances are better with the parliamentarian than they are with the Republicans.”
Waiting around for GOP buy-in is so last decade.