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Politics

Progressives Say Infrastructure Deal Falls Short Of What They Want

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about what may seem like a predictable partisan fight in Congress that feels very far away, but it's a legislative battle that could have direct consequences for Americans for generations. This is about two related bills. One is this massive infrastructure bill that now has bipartisan support. The other one is a more expansive package that does not have Republican support. It would fund Democratic priorities like jobs, education and health care - and child care, rather. President Biden had said he wouldn't sign one without the other. Now he has walked that back. Progressive Democrats feel the deal falls short of their goals. Democratic strategist Karen Finney is back on the program with us. Hi, Karen.

KAREN FINNEY: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So do progressives see this compromise by Biden to decouple these bills as a mistake?

FINNEY: Well, look. Let's take a step back. I think what progressives are saying right now is this two-prong strategy had been established for quite a while. They've been very transparent about that. And I think progressives, particularly in the House, are looking at what's happening in the Senate, knowing that what we have in the Senate is a framework. We have not actually seen the bill yet. And so I think that on the House, what you hear when you talk to folks is they want to see - as you know, the old saying goes, the devil's in the details. And they want to be very clear that what they support and what they think is going - what they're agreeing to will actually be, again, this kind of two-part strategy where part one is this bipartisan - what I would call more traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, electric grid - and then this second piece, which is the Democrats going it alone on the more human infrastructure and a modernization, if you will, of human infrastructure.

And the last thing I'd say is, understandably, I think there are progressives both in the House and the Senate who remember being at this moment once a time before under a Democratic president and being told that votes were not there. So, again, at this early stage in the process, people are laying down their markers to, you know, have the best negotiating posture they can while the bill gets written in the Senate. And remember the second piece that has to happen in the Senate is that the Senate Democrats have to decide, what's the number, what's the dollar amount that they're going to agree to in reconciliation? Because as we know, there's been some conversation about Manchin's in one place. Senator Sanders is in another place. The caucus is, you know, kind of - so getting the caucus together on that. So, again, I see this more as when you talk to people, this is a negotiating posture, and it's early in the process. And it's going to be a long summer.

MARTIN: It's going to be a long summer. Right. So just those dollar numbers - Senator Manchin has said he could support up to @ trillion in additional spending. Senator Bernie Sanders on the other side said he wants 6 trillion. So we'll see where they land. What is at stake for Democrats, Karen, if only the bipartisan bill passes?

FINNEY: well, look. Again, I think the expectation is that both things will happen. There's going to be reconciliation. There is going - and what Democrats actually have - I mean, you know, Mitch McConnell here is already acting as a bad actor, trying to undermine his own caucus members and, you know, kind of throw a wrench into this trying to get this deal done rather than focusing on getting it done. He seems to be undermining it. For Democrats, remember, if for some reason - I think the stakes are actually higher for Republicans - if the bipartisan deal falls apart, Democrats can say - a Joe Manchin could say, we really tried to get a bipartisan deal done. Republicans walked away. Now we're going to get these things done in reconciliation. They still have that as an option.

And so to some degree, you know, it's like Mitch McConnell is recognizing he does not have all the power anymore. And he was not able to get a deal done when Republicans controlled everything. So now it seems he's more interested in undermining this deal than really trying to get a bipartisan deal done. The reconciliation piece is going to happen one way or the other.

MARTIN: President Biden has billed himself as a bipartisan dealmaker, right? It's his brand. That's not what reconciliation does. That's a strict party-line vote. Do you think the rest of his party - I mean, where are the Democrats at kind of intellectually, emotionally when it comes to the nature of bipartisanship?

FINNEY: Look. I think the truth is the idea of bipartisanship - I think certainly, members come to Washington believing that they're going to work with their colleagues to get something done. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the moment that we're in, particularly the damage that was done when you could not even get Republicans to agree to tell the American people the truth about January 6, in fact, did a huge blow to the trust, in the ability to do something in a bipartisan way. But the very fact that you have Republicans who, I think, folks believe are negotiating in good faith, trying to get something done shows that there is a will. But again, I think, you know, Democrats are saying we're willing to go it alone, just as they had to do on the COVID package, if that's what it takes to get it done for the American people.

MARTIN: Democratic strategist Karen Finney. Karen, we appreciate you, as always. Thank you.

FINNEY: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.