President Biden has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a historic investment in American infrastructure by working across the aisle to rebuild our roads, bridges, and waterways and expand broadband Internet into underserved communities. The recent pedestrian bridge collapse in Washington, D.C. — within sight of the Capitol itself — is but one example of our country’s need for infrastructure improvements and raises the stakes for the American public.
Neither Donald Trump nor Barack Obama managed to pass such a sweeping infrastructure plan during their tenures. A bipartisan agreement on this issue should be an enormous win for the Biden administration and the Democratic Party.
But it’s not. Yet.
These negotiations are happening at a time when the president and Democrats have effectively driven a wedge between the Republican Party and corporate America, in part by leveraging the business community’s response to the events of Jan. 6. This realignment threatens to upend decades of political and economic coalition building by both parties and give Democrats a decisive short-term advantage. But the reality is that their newfound support from corporate America is not built on a durable long-term relationship – they are at best “frenemies” with corporate America.
Though a deal has been reached among a bipartisan group of senators, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressives are now saying they will not support that infrastructure agreement unless they also pass a reconciliation package of liberal priorities. Both progressive lawmakers and interest groups alike are pushing to couple the infrastructure bill with a wish list that includes aggressive climate change measures, expanded health care coverage, establishing free community college, and spending more on child care. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made the categorical statement that the House would not pass an infrastructure package “unless we are simultaneously passing a reconciliation package that includes our popular priorities and delivers on what the American people want, need and deserve.”
None of these demands have anything to do with the traditional infrastructure upgrades favored by the American public and business community. In humoring the far-left flank of her caucus, Speaker Pelosi risks more than derailing the bipartisan infrastructure agreement — which a strong majority of Americans clearly want. She could also upend the political progress Democrats have made in eroding longstanding corporate alignment with the GOP.
The American business community definitively wants the bipartisan, physical infrastructure bill to pass. They supply the materials, equipment, and know-how to build and revitalize this infrastructure — and many of them need superior infrastructure in the United States to maintain their edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Business leaders surely worry that Pelosi is risking the deal for a laundry list of liberal priorities. The left is also threatening its new alliance by advocating for corporate tax increases — which could undercut our economic recovery from the pandemic and may even push some businesses out of the United States, taking good-paying jobs overseas.
The corporate goodwill that Pelosi and her party have built will quickly evaporate if they kowtow to progressives and refuse to support a bipartisan bill. Should Democrats alienate their new allies, they will have thumbed their nose at a political gift and empowered the GOP at a time when support from the business community is becoming increasingly scarce and more fragile. Even worse for Democrats, they will be losing allies who might help them in their quest to defy midterm history next year as they fight to retain their power in both chambers of Congress.
Americans want a bipartisan infrastructure deal — indeed, our country needs it. Biden should heed the old saying that good policy is good politics. Allowing progressives to scuttle the agreement would be bad policy for the country and, likely, very bad politics for the Democratic Party. They’ve managed to woo corporate America. Time will tell if Democrats can manage their new coalition or if they’ll squander it.