Allies of President Biden say he’s attempting to redefine “bipartisanship” to not necessarily mean cooperation between lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — as the administration enters negotiations on the president’s mammoth tax and infrastructure bills.
Administration officials point to the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan in the Senate without a single GOP vote, even though it had support among some Republican voters.
They say despite Biden hosting Republican lawmakers at the White House to sell his multi-trillion dollar package, Democrats will ultimately go around them to ensure it is passed.
“If you looked up ‘bipartisan’ in the dictionary, I think it would say support from Republicans and Democrats,” senior adviser Anita Dunn told the Washington Post. “It doesn’t say the Republicans have to be in Congress.”
MIke Donilon, also a senior adviser, said “bipartisan” can be defined as “an agenda that unifies the country and appeals across the political spectrum.”
“I think it’s a pretty good definition to say you’re pursuing an agenda that will unite the country, that will bring Democrats and Republicans together across the country,” Donilon told the newspaper.
“Presumably, if you have an agenda that is broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans across the country, then you should have elected representatives reflecting that.”
The Biden White House is taking a similar approach to the term “infrastructure,” applying the term not only to roads and bridges, but extending it to Democrat policy wish-list items such as broadband, care for the elderly, and research and development.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg referred to it as a “semantic debate” during an appearance Sunday on CNN.
“So here in Washington folks are getting into this semantic debate. I very much believe that all of these things are infrastructure because infrastructure is the foundation that allows us to go about our lives but if there are some Republicans who don’t agree with that, we can agree to disagree,” he said on “State of the Union.”
“So they can call it whatever they like, but we’re asking them to support it because it’s good policy,” he said of Republicans opposed to the bill.
But Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said the administration’s expanding the definition of infrastructure is just sleight-of-hand to add more spending.
“There are Republicans interested in an infrastructure plan. Infrastructure in the past has always been bipartisan when it’s confined to infrastructure. The plan that you heard Secretary Buttigieg talk about is a massive expansion of the government. Only about 6 percent of the president’s proposal actually goes to what the American people, I think everyday Americans, would describe as infrastructure,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“If they’re interested in roads and bridges and highways and perhaps broadband, there is a deal to be had there,” Thune said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, was one of the first to highlight how Democrats are expanding the term to include projects outside the traditional boundaries of what is considered infrastructure.
He responded to a posting from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that said, “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”
“Abortion is infrastructure. Gun control is infrastructure. Forced unionization is infrastructure. Whatever the Left wants is infrastructure. You know what’s not? Roads & bridges. ONLY 5% OF BIDEN’s “INFRASTRUCTURE” BILL IS ROADS & BRIDGES,” Cruz said in a tweet.
Republican Sen. Roger Wicker also expressed skepticism over Biden’s overtures for “bipartisanship.”
“We are willing to negotiate with him on an infrastructure package. And this trillion dollar number is way too high for me – I’ll just say – but negotiation has to be something different from what we had on the rescue plan,” Wicker said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
He was referring to a group of Republican senators – including Mitt Romney and Susan Collins – who released a statement last week criticizing Biden’s coronavirus stimulus plan negotiations.
“In good faith, our group of 10 Republicans worked together to draft a sixth Covid-19 relief package earlier this year. Our $618 billion proposal was a first offer to the White House designed to open bipartisan negotiations,” the statement said.
“The Administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy. Fewer than 24 hours after our meeting in the Oval Office, the Senate Democratic Leader began the process of triggering reconciliation which precluded Republican participation and allowed for the package to pass without a single Republican vote,” it said.