Lindsey Graham
Credit: Kimberly Pinker/Flickr

Lindsey Graham is making headlines today by promising to be the latest Senator to support a “bipartisan” infrastructure deal in the Senate. There is no reason to believe he–or any other Republicans involved in these supposed “negotiations”–is acting in good faith. There is every reason to think that, just as happened with the Affordable Care Act negotiations, Republicans will stall the legislative calendar for months, drawing out negotiations as long as they can get away with before voting no on the final bill. And while we don’t know many of the details of the proposals being bandied about in the Senate, what we do know amounts to sabotage and irresponsible public policy.

The current proposal from Sinema and Portman is so radically unacceptable as public policy that Democrats should laugh it out of the park at a single glance. Among the lowlights: 1) using public infrastructure funds for “public private partnerships” in the form of thousands of new toll roads; 2) stealing money from the COVID relief funds that should be going to those most impacted by the pandemic, rather than paying for taxation with progressive taxation on the billionaires and monopolistic corporations that have profited from it; 3) Imposing new taxes and surcharges on electric vehicles, a disastrous disincentive for fighting climate change while doing nothing to phase out fossil fuels.

This is sabotage in the guise of bipartisanship. An infrastructure bill that does not squarely address the climate crisis and devote massive resources toward energy efficiency and expanded clean-energy electrification is not really a infrastructure. From a pure actuarial perspective, the climate-related damage to the economy from failing to address these needs will be far greater than the cost of implementing them. Republicans are beholden to fossil fuel special interest groups and donors, and have put all their economic eggs in the fossil fuel basket at the expense of their own children’s future. It’s understandable from a certain sociopathic perspective that they want to delay and prevent the move to a fossil-fuel-free future while ensuring a planetary apocalypse for their children and grandchildren, but there is no reason that a Democratic majority has to allow to them to do it.

There is no reason that a Democratic majority should allow public funds to create a massive new network of toll roads rather than free public highways. There is no reason that Democrats should be forced to sustain the political burden of passing unpopular federal gas tax increases that Republicans will then use as a populist billy club, rather than find other more progressive ways of covering infrastructure funding. There is no reason that today’s long-suffering Democrats should allow COVID relief funds or unemployment insurance money to be taken to shoulder the burden of repairing infrastructure neglected by decades of selfish and shortsighted policy by Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats.

And there is no reason for Democrats to let Republicans chew up more and more of the legislative calendar, scuttling other major progressive priorities–especially when the likeliest outcome is that Republicans will once again play Lucy to Charlie Brown, pulling the football away from them once again at the last minute over manufactured excuses after wasting months of their time.

It’s a sham. Senator Sanders is right to refuse to play ball with it. Senator Schatz is right to refuse a deal without addressing climate priorities. Progressives are right to stand up and say no.

Eric Levitz at New York Magazine gets it right on the key dynamic at play, which frankly has little to do with Republicans at all, but with internal negotiations against Manchin and Sinema:

The main event is a staring contest between moderates and liberals. The latter can’t pass anything without Manchin and Sinema’s votes. The former can’t secure federal dollars for their states without the latter’s cooperation. The moderates want to downsize the president’s ambitions, and render it maximally palatable to their friends at the Chamber of Commerce. The liberals think Biden’s $4 trillion agenda already represents a bitter compromise with business interests. Both factions are waiting for the other to blink. And Republicans are primarily trying to keep the staredown going; the longer it lasts, the less time Democrats will have to pass new laws before midterm season begins. The legislative calendar is a scarce resource. The Senate has only six more workweeks before summer’s end.

But let’s not pretend that Republicans are offering anything more than poison pills designed to sabotage the eventual outcome. As with the voting rights bills, either Democrats find a way to bring Manchin and Sinema out of their recalcitrant positions, or the country’s real needs will suffer–as will the Democrats’ own electoral futures.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.