Heading into this new Congress and administration, all hopes were for bipartisanship and unity as promised by President Joe Biden. Those razor thin margins actually offered a bit of hope that Congressional members would have to work across party lines to advance priorities on both sides of the aisle.
In Biden’s inaugural address, he called for unity. “With unity we can do great things. Important things.”
But as Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., says, Biden’s lack of bipartisanship caught him and many off guard.
“I thought there’d be some evidence of the unity, unity, unity that he talked about on Inaugural Day. And there really hasn’t been,” Johnson shares.
“The president has seemingly gone out of his way since the inaugural to not work with Republicans. And I didn’t expect that. Joe Biden has a 40-year track record of working with Republicans.”
The Senate parliamentarian granted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer his wish this week. She ruled in favor of the Democrats to attempt to advance three reconciliation bills through Congress this calendar year. Rather than the typical 60-vote threshold to end debate on any bill and prevent a filibuster, reconciliation allows for a simple majority approval of any package brought to the floor.
Reconciliation has been used in the past to advance tax reforms by Republicans and by Democrats with the Affordable Care Act, but never more than once in a year. And never with these price tags.
Johnson, who says one of his defining characteristics in his time in the House has been a strong interest in bipartisanship, notes the previous four COVID-relief packages passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. But the most recent $1.9 trillion passed with only Democrat support.
“He went it alone,” Johnson says of Biden.
The last five-year highway bill, which Johnson says was highly regarded as a major bipartisan success, was $305 billion over five years. The latest infrastructure proposal – the American Jobs Plan - from Biden is $2 trillion.
“When you start talking about a package seven times that size, it doesn’t seem as though you’re leaving a lot of ground to build a bridge to the other party,” Johnson explains.
Biden won’t allow inaction
In a speech Wednesday, Biden says during the next few weeks, he and the vice president will be meeting with Republicans and Democrats to hear from everyone.
“And we'll be listening. We'll be open to good ideas and good-faith negotiations,” Biden says. “But here's what we won't be open to: We will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction simply is not an option.”
Since announcing this plan, Biden said he’s heard from his Republican friends say it's too big. Biden states, “They say, ‘Why not focus on traditional infrastructure, fix what we've already got -- the roads and the highways that exist and the bridges?”
“We need to start seeing infrastructures through its effect on the lives of working people in America,” Biden adds.
He says to “Ask all those farmers and small business owners and homeowners whether investing in clean energy to fight the effects of climate change is part of infrastructure.”
He adds to ask folks in rural America, where more than 35% of the people lack a reliable, high-speed Internet, limiting their ability to conduct business or engage in remote learning for their schools. “Ask them whether investing in Internet access will lead to better jobs in town, new markets for farmers and better opportunities for their kids,” Biden says.
After his comments Wednesday, when the President was asked whether he would have failed on his promise of bipartisanship if he doesn’t get Republicans on board with this plan, he responded he’s prepared to work together. He criticized Republicans for not being ready to compromise in the most recent COVID relief bill and said they "did not move in inch" in any attempts to offer a compromise.
“I’m prepared to work. I really am,” Biden assures. “But to automatically say that the only thing that’s infrastructure is a highway, a bridge, or whatever – that’s just not rational.”
Rising federal debt
“I have very little optimism that bipartisanship is going to be the order of the day on infrastructure,” Johnson laments.
Johnson says many provisions he can support as good investments, but also says as a country facing a debt of $30 trillion additional considerations need to be taken.
“With any ag operation, their desire for the purchase of new things is going to outrun somewhat of their budget. And that means they need to make some cutbacks. They need to make some hard decisions. They need to really focus their investment on things that are going to allow them to grow the operation or increase profitability,” Johnson says.
He questions whether the government, with a $30 trillion debt, has decided that doesn’t matter. With $6 trillion passed for COVID relief, $2 trillion on infrastructure, and $2 trillion more to come in another package in a few weeks, Johnson states, “At some point the wheels are going to come off the truck, and it just doesn’t seem like that’s a responsible way to govern our country.”