In some ways, it’s understandable. Biden’s framing that he wouldn’t enact one bill without the other was perhaps uncharacteristically sharp, a dynamic punctuated by Republicans’ ridiculous hysteria over Democrats’ long-stated intention to pursue both a bipartisan deal and a Democratic reconciliation bill at the same time. Although Republicans feigned outrage over Biden’s supposed duplicity, in reality they were perturbed by the quick realization that their bipartisan dealmaking hadn’t slowed Democrats’ momentum on reconciliation one bit. Indeed, both Manchin and Sinema told news outlets last week the two-bill strategy was still on track and even “inevitable,” in Manchin’s words.
But in order to smooth some ruffled feathers, Biden issued a statement over the weekend saying he fully intended to stand by the bipartisan framework he had so publicly declared “a deal.”
“The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do. I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor,” the president wrote. “I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”
But despite issuing a lengthy 8-paragraph statement, Biden didn’t do much other than restate in more diplomatic prose his objective to pass both bills.
“I have been clear from the start that it was my hope that the infrastructure plan could be one that Democrats and Republicans would work on together, while I would seek to pass my Families Plan and other provisions through the process known as reconciliation. There has been no doubt or ambiguity about my intention to proceed this way,” he wrote. “So to be clear: our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem. We will let the American people—and the Congress—decide.”
Republicans, for their part, seem to mostly be assuaged by that statement. Fair enough.
In reality, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will still almost surely need both Senate-passed bills at her fingertips in order to have any chance of passing the “skinny” bipartisan deal through her highly progressive caucus. Bottom line, a roughly $1 trillion deal that mostly just addresses roads and bridges ain’t gonna cut it in the lower chamber.
In addition, plenty of progressive Senate Democrats have also drawn a line in the sand at passing the bipartisan deal without a Democrats-only bill that addresses Biden’s clean energy investments. As Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts succinctly put it, “No climate, no deal.”
The truth is, Biden’s weekend clarification, as it were, was likely more about keeping Sinema and Manchin on board with the two-track process than merely placating Republicans. That may make progressives cringe a bit, but keeping those two Democratic Senators happy is a necessary evil if Democrats want any chance at getting a reconciliation bill with all its attendant progressive goodies through Congress.
And even with his weekend walk back, clarification, cave—whatever one wants to call it—Biden still entered this week with a better chance of getting that reconciliation bill precisely because he is keeping Sinema and Manchin at his side.