Months ago, President Biden unveiled the centerpiece of his domestic agenda: a two-pronged, $4 trillion effort to transform the U.S. economy by overhauling the nation’s infrastructure and expanding aid to families.
Yesterday, Biden and a bipartisan group of senators — five Democrats, five Republicans — announced that they had reached a compromise on part of it: a $1.2 trillion framework to fund roads, electric-vehicle charging stations, broadband and other physical infrastructure.
Today we’ll walk you through the big questions, with help from our colleagues in Washington.
How did a bipartisan deal come about?
You aren’t wrong to wonder. Republicans have almost uniformly opposed the top priorities of Democratic presidents for decades. Bill Clinton’s tax bill, Barack Obama’s health care bill and Biden’s pandemic relief bill all passed without any G.O.P. votes. And just this month, Biden ended an earlier effortt to haggle over infrastructure spending with Senate Republicans after the senators barely budged from their opening bid.
But talks continued in part because patching up crumbling roads and bridges is a less polarized issue than taxes or health care, says my colleague Emily Cochrane, who covers Congress. “It’s long been seen as the one of the last remaining opportunities for bipartisan agreement.”
Both parties had reasons to collaborate. Biden wanted a bipartisan win. Moderate Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema insisted on working across the aisle. Some Republicans wanted to prove that Congress could still function. Others “would still like to be able to say, ‘Look, I delivered hundreds of millions of dollars for projects back home,’” Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, told me.
The bipartisan framework includes money to clean up drinking water and expand public transit, as Biden initially proposed, but omits universal pre-K, tax credits for poorer families and other provisions of his families plan.
What could actually pass?
The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress hope to pass two bills: one based on the compromise plan and a second focused on Biden’s families plan.
Democrats will have to walk a narrow line to pass either. Any defections — from moderate members opposed to the bills’ costs or progressives unwilling to limit their scope — could scuttle the bills. The party’s “two-track” approach is an effort to get both factions to support both bills, Carl said. “They’re going to have to be tied very closely together to get the necessary votes.”
Insufficient support from Senate Republicans could also sink the bipartisan bill. “Even some of the people involved in the negotiations I could see breaking away if the price tag gets too high,” Carl added.
Democrats aim to pass Biden’s families plan using budget reconciliation, a process that lets certain spending bills clear the Senate with a filibuster-proof simple majority. Progressives and moderates are already at odds over how much to spend in the reconciliation bill, and how high to lift taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans to pay for Biden’s plans. “The biggest divides come down to size,” Emily said.
Democratic leaders also hope to pass Biden’s most ambitious climate measures through reconciliation. But reconciliation bills must follow strict budgetary rules, and some of those proposals may not survive.
When’s the vote?
Democratic leaders hope to advance the bipartisan plan and start the reconciliation process next month, with the goal of passing both bills by the fall. But reconciliation can get messy, and other bills — including raising the debt ceiling and funding the government — will compete for Congress’s attention.
“Let’s put it this way: I don’t have concrete, can’t-be-changed vacation plans after mid-August,” Emily says. “It will be a while.”
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Could this meeting have been an email?
People have been holding meetings for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians had hieroglyphs to convey the concept of “council.” George Washington, sick of writing letters, convened the founders in his study to help set up the U.S. government, Caity Weaver writes in The Times.
Over the course of the pandemic, meetings have taken on new forms as we had to move them online. But they were almost never without technical difficulties, and many people found them wanting.
So, Caity asks, what do we miss when we don’t meet in person?
With their emphasis on collaboration, meetings can “play a psychological role in motivating the work force,” Caitlin Rosenthal, an economic historian, told The Times.
Avoiding a bad meeting requires a purpose, a mixture of introverts and extroverts and, ideally, designated decision makers. As Caity writes: “A meeting can be good, in short — but only if it needs to be a meeting.” — Claire Moses, a Morning writer
For more: Do chance encounters at the office actually boost innovation?