Joe Biden’s entreaties to Republicans on his infrastructure bill are picking up steam. But progressives are warning the president not to get too attached to his GOP friends.
“I personally don’t think the Republicans are serious about addressing the major crises facing this country. Maybe I’m wrong, but we’re certainly not going to wait for an indefinite period of time,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“We’re gonna move forward rapidly,” Sanders vowed. “They have something to say? Now is the time to say it.”
Liberals are wary that the GOP may be trying to prolong infrastructure talks for weeks or even months, potentially setting back Democrats’ ambitious agenda as Biden goes back and forth with the opposition party over how big to go and when. But several prominent progressives also want to keep giving Biden room to try with Republicans — up to a still-undetermined point.
At the moment, the two sides seem very far apart: Biden’s initial infrastructure spending pitch was more than $2 trillion, with a second part of the plan still in development. And several Democrats said Monday they seriously doubt that discussions with the GOP will produce anything at all.
Republicans have not indicated they would be willing to spend anything more than $800 billion — a paltry sum for Democrats — and even that might be a stretch. And while liberals in Congress aren’t yet asking Biden to ditch the talks altogether, they are clearly signaling that his patience, like theirs, should be finite.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that he’s “afraid that, like waiting for Godot, the Republicans may never show up.”
Biden “should approach the negotiations with an open mind and an open heart. But he should not delay,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “It is the president’s responsibility to keep this process moving. We can’t end up months from now with no real progress and no real infrastructure bill.”
“He should be skeptical of Republicans, sure,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Mitch McConnell has certainly given good reason for skepticism given his staunch resistance, even intransigence, to Biden proposals.”
At his latest bipartisan meeting on Monday afternoon, Biden told House and Senate attendees that he was ready to compromise, according to attendees. Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) said that Biden asked Republicans to stitch together an offer within a month. He also told lawmakers that inaction is not an option, according to the White House, and press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s bottom line is that “the only thing we cannot do is fail to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, rebuild our economy, and create millions of jobs.”
That’s just the latest recent olive branch from the president to the GOP. Already his overtures to Republicans have eaten up more time than they did during debate over his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan earlier this year. Democrats decided then to leave Republicans behind almost immediately after GOP negotiators put forward a bill less than one-third of what Biden is seeking. But there was also a more obvious deadline then as benefits ran out in March.
That recent memory means the current skepticism about honest deal-making cuts both ways. The GOP sees a president trying to reconcile his campaign persona as a bipartisan negotiator with his record of encouraging Democrats to pass their huge coronavirus bill along party lines.
“We have heard him sound sincere, right? And then, when it came down to it, if they had the votes, the Democrats did what they wanted to do,'” Gimenez said after meeting with Biden on Monday.