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Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said something Thursday about infrastructure negotiations that seems to have riled both progressives and conservatives alike. Good.
As Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate has pursued an additional way to pass even more legislation through the reconciliation process, which allows them to sidestep the filibuster and the need for any Republican support, Republican leadership has rediscovered fiscal restraint now that they’re no longer in power. It’s almost as if neither party is going out of their way to work together, and that the hard work of legislating is being eclipsed by messaging.
That makes it especially important for the moderates to lead from the middle in this moment — not because bipartisanship makes everybody feel warm and fuzzy, but because it can make policies more durable and can build momentum toward agreements on other pressing issues. The long-term solution to gridlock usually isn’t going it alone, it’s cooperation.
So when Coons floated the idea of focusing an infrastructure package first on a smaller bipartisan deal between Democrats and Republicans before Democrats consider advancing additional measures on their own, that got our attention.
“Let’s just say, notionally: The president and our caucus, we are trying to get $2 trillion worth of infrastructure and job investments moving ahead,” Coons said Thursday, according to Politico. “Why wouldn’t you do $800 billion of it in a bipartisan way and do the other $1.2 trillion Dems-only through reconciliation? Why wouldn’t you do that?”
It’s a reasonable question. We asked a similar thing in February as Democrats slogged forward with reconciliation to pass more COVID-19 relief without Republican votes and without spending much time engaging deal-makers on the other side of the aisle, including Sen. Susan Collins.
We go back to something independent Sen. Angus King told us in January in the context of COVID-19 relief.
“I prefer a bipartisan plan, even if it’s not everything the president has asked for, because I think that it ends up being more widely accepted, more widely accepted in the country, it’s less partisan by definition,” King said at the time.
That value of bipartisan buy-in still applies. We’re not just talking about bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship. This isn’t some purely theoretical exercise in political ethics. It has practical implications, not just in how the country responds to congressional action, but in how lawmakers respond to and work with each other.
We haven’t been quick to call Republicans great negotiating partners at the federal or state levels. But we worry that Democrats anticipating obstruction could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This doesn’t have to be the case. The vote to advance hate crimes legislation in the Senate this week offers a potential step forward, and least in terms of lawmakers working past the messaging. Collins has been involved in negotiations with Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who introduced this bill as a response to the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Hirono said she and Collins have been working on language to broaden support for the bill, according to Reuters. The Senate voted 92-6 in favor of a procedural motion, and senators are expected to debate the bill next week.
“Before I move on, I just want to say to my Republican colleagues: this is how the Senate can work, even though it’s closely divided,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday. “When there is a pressing issue, like the rising tide of anti-Asian violence, the Senate can act quickly and in a bipartisan way to address it.”
It’s not just how the Senate can work, it’s how the Senate should work. And it’s not just Republicans who need to recommit to this idea. Both parties have the ability and responsibility to be part of a more productive process. It’s time to build some bridges.