The GOP: still not a governing party

They’re united against Biden’s infrastructure plan. But they “haven’t made consensus” on what they’re for.


The most predictable headline of the week was NBC News’ “GOP unites against Biden’s $2 trillion jobs plan. It’s the counteroffer they can’t agree on.” A Republican counteroffer would mean that Republicans, as a party, were for something. But they’re not; Republicans are only against things. That’s why Steve Benen spent an entire book arguing that the GOP is not a governing party any more. The NBC article explains:

Republicans agree on one thing: They don’t like Biden’s proposal. But that’s about all.

[WV Senator Shelley Moore] Capito, who, as the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, is stuck in the middle of the struggle, said she’s crafting a “conceptual Republican bill” that includes investments in roads and bridges.

“We’re working on that right now. We haven’t made consensus on it,” she said.

Good luck with that, because Republicans still haven’t produced an alternative to ObamaCare, after more than a decade of railing against it. They have hated it to the point of shutting down the government, but an alternative? That’s too much to ask. Formal announcement of the “terrific” plan that Trump claimed to have in 2015 was always just two weeks away, but we still haven’t seen it. In 2017, he let the GOP majorities in Congress create their own “repeal and replace” bill, but the “replace” part remained empty until John McCain’s famous thumbs-down put the kibosh on the whole effort.

Similarly, when Trump really needed a Covid relief bill for his re-election campaign, Republicans couldn’t unite on one. There is no GOP plan for climate change or entitlement reform or competing with China or preventing mass shootings or solving any other American problem. They hate what Democrats want to do, and that’s as far as they go.

If the GOP was going to have a policy on anything, though, you would think it would be infrastructure. From the early Trump campaign to the American First Caucus platform that leaked this week (the one that honors America’s “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions”), infrastructure has been a key pillar:

Infrastructure is one of the few areas where the federal government should exercise its constitutional authority. For decades, America has been sending trillions of dollars out the door to support the infrastructure of other nations — even to countries that hate the United [States] — with nothing to show for it. Simultaneously, our domestic infrastructure is failing, crumbling and decaying from within. This Caucus will work to direct as much money as possible to our domestic infrastructure needs.

OK, maybe we shouldn’t expect “direct as much money as possible” to include voting for a Biden proposal. But if something is that important, you’d think there would be a plan for doing it.

There isn’t. There never was. Like the terrific health care plan, Trump campaigned in 2016 on a massive infrastructure plan that never emerged.

When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton. Only by me.

But for before long, “infrastructure week” became a running joke. The “framework” Trump presented in 2018 never drew backing from the Republican majorities in Congress, and after the GOP lost the House, Trump walked away from negotiating with Nancy Pelosi about infrastructure until Democrats “get these phony investigations over with”. As re-election loomed, he floated price tags of $1 trillion or $2 trillion for unspecified infrastructure, but Congressional Republicans once again refused to line up behind it.

So if you ask leading Republicans whether they want to rebuild American roads and bridges, they’ll say they do. But they don’t want to raise taxes for it, and they don’t want to borrow money either. Some may talk vaguely about cutting other spending to compensate, but the those specifics also never appear. (Ten years ago, Paul Krugman was already making fun of Speaker Paul Ryan’s “magic asterisk” of unspecified spending cuts.)

That’s why this week’s headline was so predictable: Republicans are unanimously against Biden’s proposal to do what Trump said he wanted to do but never got done. It’s too big, it’s not really infrastructure, and so on. So what’s their alternative plan for solving this problem?

Crickets.

NBC News goes on to state the obvious:

A counteroffer is key to beginning any process that might resemble negotiations.

One lesson President Biden seems to have learned from his Obama-administration experience is not to make concessions in exchange for nothing. If there is nothing that Republicans support, then their votes aren’t winnable. End of story.

The obstacle is that he can’t offer them what they really want: roads and bridges that appear by magic, without anyone needing to pay taxes or take on debt, and without Biden getting credit for them.

In January, after Biden announced his Covid relief proposal, Republicans pretended to make a counteroffer. Of course, it didn’t come from Mitch McConnell or anyone else authorized to speak for the whole caucus. It came from ten “moderate” GOP senators — coincidentally, the exact number needed to overcome a filibuster. That meant that if Biden gave up on the filibuster-avoiding reconciliation process, each of the ten Republicans would have veto power over the final bill. And their offer was a $600 billion package that was not even one-third of Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal, which the American people supported.

So: give up the great majority of what you think is needed, trust that McConnell won’t turn any of us, give all ten of us the power to scupper the whole deal if any of the final details aren’t to our liking, and then maybe we’ll vote with you and with the American people.

Such a deal. Biden ignored them, got the package he wanted through reconciliation (with zero Republican votes in either house), and did something popular besides.

This time, even a phony counteroffer doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Senator Manchin may pine for the days of bipartisanship and lament the resort to reconciliation. But he does want an infrastructure bill to get done, and even he has to realize that you can’t work out a compromise with people who can’t say yes.

So that’s the choice: Vice President Harris breaking the tie on an all-Democratic reconciliation bill, or nothing.

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