President Joe Biden is playing a better hand in negotiations with Senate Republicans on his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan. How do we know? The fact that Republicans are even at the table.
Biden's plan and the provisions in it are enormously popular at a time when millions of American workers are still on the sidelines in the aftermath of the pandemic's economic toll. Polling also continues to show that most voters want congressional Republicans to work with Biden rather than simply serve as a blockade to progress. Recent polling from Vox and Data for Progress found that 68% of Americans—including 43% of Republicans—want Republicans to find ways to work with Biden rather than obstruct his agenda. Americans also think more broadly that Republicans are the real impediment to bipartisanship, with fully 67% of respondents saying GOP leaders in Congress are doing too little to compromise with Biden in a recent ABC/News Ipsos poll.
In short, between the popularity of Biden's proposals, the economic need that still exists, and voters catching on to the fact that Republicans live to kill progress, the Senate GOP has to at least pretend they are making an effort to work with Biden. They simply can't ride into 2022 with the stench of having worked to kill Biden's economic recovery efforts without so much as a nod to attempting to be part of the solution.
For his part, Biden seems to think (or is at least pretending) he can get a deal with Republicans on the order of one trillion dollars with some pretty in-the-weeds pay-fors that don't involve unraveling the GOP's 2017 tax giveaway to the rich. "I’m confident they would go for that," Biden told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell.
It's still unclear how much of this is just a performative way of getting Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to "yes" by playing out a failed deal with the GOP to its natural end. But if Biden did manage to get a scaled-back bill with Senate Republicans, then Democrats would surely work toward passing another Democratic-only bill through reconciliation that addressed more of Biden's proposals while raising taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for them.
But let's be clear: None of that is necessary from the standpoint of public opinion. The Republican position is that they have drawn a red line at unraveling their tax cuts for the rich and corporate-y. Instead, they are proposing user fees in order to pay for Biden's jobs and infrastructure plan. In other words, they're entirely willing to kill a giant job-generating bill in order to protect the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations from tax increases. Instead, they want user fees—otherwise known as a regressive tax on the poor and middle class—to pay for infrastructure that the nation's corporations and wealthiest individuals will surely profit from.
Let's say that again: Republicans want to pay for any jobs/infrastructure bill by raising taxes on poor and middle-class Americans.
Here's how Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, put it to the Washington Post: “The Republicans are saying those megacorporations that use roads and bridges and transportation systems every single day as part of their efforts to generate revenue ... shouldn’t have to pay a penny, and their employees, middle-income workers, should have to bear the burden." Gee, that doesn’t sound like a political winner for Republicans.
But in a total head-scratcher, even some Democrats are reportedly advocating for user fees (i.e., raising taxes on the poor/middle class).
“User fees have to be part of the mix,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told Axios on Thursday.
That is about the dumbest position Democrats could adopt as a message heading into 2022. Well, we wanted to raise taxes on those who could afford it to create jobs but instead we raised taxes on those who couldn't afford it.
Fortunately, sanity appears to be prevailing at the White House. Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that increasing user fees would “violate” the president’s red-line pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 annually.
Most Senate Democrats also haven’t been fooled by their GOP colleagues’ overtures. "Republicans aren't serious about paying for anything,” Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also told Axios.
That sounds about right—and it's the conclusion many Senate Democrats had already reached weeks ago.
Here's the bottom line: Democrats have the upper hand in this negotiation as long as they don't listen to the nonsense coming from people like Warner.
- Americans like Biden's proposals.
- Americans favor raising taxes on corporations and those making more than $400,000 a year—especially for popular investments like universal pre-K, repairing roads and bridges, and extending high-speed internet to rural areas
- Americans don't favor raising taxes on the poor/middle class (no polling yet, but we'll get back to you if Warner produces some).
- The nation needs to create jobs quickly for this economic recovery to continue and no one is better positioned to do that than the U.S. government.
If Republicans want to ride into 2022 claiming credit for killing a jobs deal because they prioritized protecting the nation's wealthiest from tax increases, so be it.
If Republicans want to claim credit for killing a bipartisan deal because Biden wouldn't let them raise taxes on nation's poor and middle class, so be it.
But whatever Democrats do here, they can't afford to do nothing. It would be political malpractice to squander this opportunity when public opinion is overwhelmingly on their side and Republicans are pushing a tax hike on middle-class Americans.
Democrats have a golden opportunity here and Republicans are only helping their case. Failure is not an option.