President Biden unveiled the centrepiece of his domestic agenda months ago: a two-pronged, $4 trillion effort to transform the U.S. economy by overhauling the nation’s infrastructure and expanding family assistance.
Yesterday, Biden and a bipartisan group of senators — five Democrats and five Republicans — announced a $1.2 trillion framework to fund roads, electric-vehicle charging stations, broadband, and other physical infrastructure.
Today, with the help of our colleagues in Washington, we’ll walk you through the big questions.
How did a bipartisan deal come about?
You’re not crazy to be curious. For decades, Republicans have almost uniformly opposed Democratic presidents’ top priorities. Bill Clinton’s tax bill, Barack Obama’s health-care bill, and Joe Biden’s pandemic-relief bill all passed with no Republican votes. And, just this month, Biden called it quits on an earlier attempt to negotiate infrastructure spending with Senate Republicans after the senators barely budged from their opening bid.
However, talks have continued in part because repairing crumbling roads and bridges is a less divisive issue than taxes or health care, according to my colleague Emily Cochrane, who covers Congress. “It has long been regarded as one of the last remaining chances for bipartisan agreement.”
Both parties had reasons to work together. Biden desired a bipartisan victory. Moderate Democrats in the Senate, such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, insisted on working across the aisle. Some Republicans wanted to demonstrate that Congress could still work. Others, according to Carl Hulse, The Times’ chief Washington correspondent, “would still like to be able to say, ‘Look, I delivered hundreds of millions of dollars for projects back home.”
The bipartisan framework includes funds to clean up drinking water and expand public transportation, as initially proposed by Biden, but excludes universal pre-K, tax credits for lower-income families, and other provisions from his family plan.
What could actually pass?
The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress are hoping to pass two bills: one based on the compromise plan and the other on Biden’s families plan.
Democrats will have to walk a fine line in order to pass either bill. Any defections, whether from moderate members opposed to the bills’ costs or progressives unwilling to limit their scope, could put the bills on the chopping block. Carl explained that the party’s “two-track” strategy is an attempt to get both factions to support both bills. “They’ll have to be very closely tied together to get the necessary votes.”
Inadequate Republican support in the Senate could also doom the bipartisan bill. “I could see some of the people involved in the negotiations breaking away if the price tag becomes too high,” Carl added.
Democrats hope to pass Biden’s family plan through budget reconciliation, a procedure that allows certain spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority that is filibuster-proof. Progressives and moderates are already at odds over how much to spend in the reconciliation bill, as well as how much to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans to fund Biden’s plans. “The biggest divides are based on size,” Emily explained.
Democratic leaders also hope that reconciliation will allow them to pass Biden’s most ambitious climate legislation. However, reconciliation bills must adhere to strict budgetary guidelines, and some of those proposals may be killed.
When’s the vote?
Democratic leaders hope to move forward with the bipartisan plan and begin the reconciliation process next month, with the goal of passing both bills by the end of the year. However, reconciliation can be difficult, and other bills, such as raising the debt ceiling and funding the government, will compete for Congress’s attention.
“Let me put it this way: I don’t have firm, unchangeable vacation plans after mid-August,” Emily says. “It will take some time.”
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Could this meeting have been an email?
Meetings have been taking place for thousands of years. Hieroglyphs were used by the ancient Egyptians to convey the concept of “council.” Caity Weaver writes in The Times that George Washington, tired of writing letters, convened the founders in his study to help establish the United States government.
Meetings took on new forms as we had to move them online during the pandemic. However, they were almost always plagued by technical difficulties, and many people found them wanting.
So, Caity wonders, what do we miss out on when we don’t get to meet in person?
Meetings, with their emphasis on collaboration, can “play a psychological role in motivating the work force,” according to Caitlin Rosenthal, an economic historian, in The Times.
A purpose, a mix of introverts and extroverts, and, ideally, designated decision makers are required to avoid a bad meeting. “A meeting can be good, in short — but only if it needs to be a meeting,” Caity writes. Claire Moses, a Morning contributor