Bipartisanship Is Garbage

Centrist pundits and politicians are cheering the new bipartisan infrastructure bill even though it slashes a range of vital spending programs contained in the original. We don’t need continued fetishization of bipartisanship — we need measures that actually aid the working-class majority.

Media figures and politicians tell us the infrastructure bill is an important Biden administration victory, but its "bipartisan" version is woefully inadequate. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

A tweet from democratic socialist congressman Jamaal Bowman laid it out in stark terms.

Whether the “bipartisan” gutting of the infrastructure bill is all the fault of Joe Manchin or Joe Biden and his frequently professed enthusiasm for renewed bipartisan cooperation, it’s a disaster for the working class. The original bill had $387 billion for “housing, schools, and buildings.” The bipartisan version has $0. The original infrastructure bill had $400 billion for “home- and community-based care.” The bipartisan version has $0. Even “clean energy tax credits,” an absurdly inadequate response to the climate crisis, plummeted from $363 billion to $0. Other climate measures were also scrapped.

The gap between the bills is a catastrophe in human terms. What it has going for it is . . . bipartisanship.

Democrats say they’ll pass a separate bill through the reconciliation process to address the areas where the infrastructure bill does nothing. We’ll see. Powerful players have promised they won’t vote on the infrastructure bill if the reconciliation bill isn’t approved, but it’s hard to avoid the sinking feeling that we’ve seen this movie before. In 2009, for example, the House Progressive Caucus was vowing not to support any version of the Affordable Care Act that didn’t include a public option.

If the infrastructure bill does end up getting voted on before the reconciliation bill, it’s all too easy to imagine one or two moderate Democrats (which would be all it would take) having second thoughts. Separating the bills would make such a decision far less politically costly on their part. Or we could see a repetition of the grotesque farce that played out in February, when Senate Democrats pretended to be powerless in the face of the parliamentarian’s decision not to allow a minimum-wage hike to go through reconciliation — even though the parliamentarian is a low-level staffer the Democratic leadership could have fired or vice president Kamala Harris could have simply overruled.

It’s too early to know how any of that will play out. As I write, it’s still possible that the main infrastructure bill will itself run into trouble at the last minute. But whatever happens, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the absurdity of hundreds of billions of dollars of desperately needed aid being gutted from the infrastructure bill — and a chorus of politicians and media figures telling us that this is an important Biden victory because the bill is now “bipartisan.”

America’s peculiar electoral system (and antidemocratic laws) have guaranteed that there’s no separate labor or socialist party with its own ballot line, so those who would otherwise be part of such a party end up getting elected as Democrats, and labor unions and other progressive forces can sometimes exercise a (frustratingly limited) degree of influence on some elected Democrats even outside of the “Berniecrat” wing. The Democratic establishment, however, is firmly in the pocket of the ownership class. And the GOP, which lacks any equivalent to these progressive forces, is even more reliably aligned with corporate America. That’s why alleged populists like Josh Hawley are firmly opposed to universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, or any other reform that would substantially improve the lives of working people.

Given that reality, it’s no surprise that so many of the worst things that have happened in the last twenty years have been bipartisan. The invasion of Iraq was deeply bipartisan. Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, and a long list of other prominent Democrats voted for it. The Patriot Act was almost unanimously bipartisan. (Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold was the only senator who voted against it.) The beginning of the forever war in Afghanistan was so bipartisan that there wasn’t a single “no” vote in the Senate.

Meanwhile, not a single Republican would ever vote for a public option — never mind the Medicare for All plan supported by even a majority of Republican voters in some polls. Some Republicans pretend to be “economic populists,” but if that minimum-wage vote had happened back in February, it would have been astonishing if even one Republican senator had been a “yes” vote — never mind that almost two-thirds of the public supports the proposal.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking out bipartisan support for beneficial reforms when it’s possible and will make such measures more likely to pass. Bernie Sanders, for example, has done so in situations ranging from improving health care for veterans to ending US involvement in the war in Yemen. But your default reaction to hearing that some new bill is bipartisan should be to worry about how the two parties of capital are ganging up to screw the rest of us this time.

After the spiraling series of catastrophes that have ravaged the working-class majority of society, we need far more than the original infrastructure bill ever promised to make things right. Instead, we’re being told we should cheer for getting much less than it promised because the process is bipartisan.

Screw that.