There is another lesson President Biden has taken from Obama’s epochal battles in Congress over ten years ago. His American Jobs Plan can pass Congress this year.
Here is why:
The way the American Jobs Plan is shaping up is highly evocative of how the energy and climate, cap-and-trade legislation developed by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) moved to approval in 2009, the last time the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.
The American Jobs Plan has the same scale of complexity as creating a carbon trading system for the entire US economy. As in 2009, there are widely disparate views across the Democratic caucus, from the scope of the infrastructure program — everything from rail to clean energy projects to broadband to lead pipes for water — to the tax issues, including deductibility for state and local taxes.
In 2009 on Waxman-Markey, the chairs worked their committees and the Speaker worked the chairs and the differences and deals were ironed out. The package came together and then fell apart on several occasions. So there were very difficult days. But the President and the leadership stayed with it and ultimately got there.
When Waxman-Markey finally passed the House 219-212 on June 26, 2009, it was with a critical margin supplied by eight Republican votes. The key to those votes was industries and companies in their districts who urgently wanted what was in the bill. If the White House can marshal concentrated grassroots pressure, especially from industries that will benefit from the legislation and companies that might participate in the builds, and focus on some Republicans in districts that will benefit enormously from the infrastructure bill, then bipartisan House passage is possible.
The President has the capacity to provide even stronger leadership than Obama did. And the infrastructure package is more popular — has much more instant appeal — than Waxman-Markey was with the country and Republican voters. Roads and bridges and rail and airports and broadband are hardly “job killer” programs — the slogan that was used to stop Waxman-Markey in the Senate.
The chairs of the key House committee are very able to write landmark legislation, and they have now done this multiple times, with Waxman-Markey and Obamacare a decade ago and the American Rescue Plan this year. And Speaker Pelosi is simply the greatest grandmaster we have seen. To be certain, there will be half a dozen "Joe Manchin moments" such as when the Senate was stopped for several hours on COVID relief to negotiate a deal to get Ser Manchin’s 50th vote. But they worked through it — and won.
The Senate will be a different ballgame and it will be treacherous. Waxman-Markey never got to the final vote there. However, with the ruling this week by the Senate Parliamentarian that the “reconciliation” process can be used again — which requires a simple majority, not a 60-vote super-majority — the same playbook used to pass the American Rescue Plan into law. The infrastructure bill will be fully contestable in the Senate. Majority Leader Schumer has been very able so far. And President Biden is the 101st Senator with plenty of sway to play.
On this issue, the Republicans appear to be reverting in style to the old days of pre-Trump Republicans: anti-spending, anti-taxes, smaller government. That playbook worked against Obama, particularly in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014.
But it is possible, given the success of the American Rescue Plan, and how Biden has framed his agenda for the country, that the paradigm has shifted, with most Americans thinking the rich are getting too much and the middle really needs help, and that America desperately needs rebuilding. So what Biden is proposing on both infrastructure and taxes is seen not as radical, but as responsible, pragmatic, fair. With his emphasis on unions and workers, Biden appears to be winning back some Trump populists.
If infrastructure is enacted, on top of the rescue bill, and real results are apparent by the end of the year, then the killer midterm history, where the incumbent party in the White House loses an average of two dozen seats in the House, may not recur next year.
This is why the Democrats are insisting this gets done. Biden wants – and needs – to show the country, and the world, that American democracy can work again. And Democrats need to show that the Congress they lead can do big things. They cannot win the midterms if they cannot govern.
Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan is going to be difficult to get through. But it can be enacted. And if it is, we will see a tectonic shift in America’s political landscape.