How Compromise With the GOP Can Serve the Country


On May 12, 113 days into his presidency, Joe Biden finally sat down with leaders of the House and Senate — Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy. It’s surprising and disappointing that this took so long to happen. Here’s hoping many more such meetings follow.  

Biden invited the leaders of both parties to the Oval Office to discuss infrastructure, taxes and other issues. He began by saying, “When I ran, I said I wasn’t going to be a Democratic president, I was going to be president for all Americans.” That’s a promise the country needs him to keep. Until now, unfortunately, he has largely left Republicans out in the cold.

To win Republican support for an infrastructure bill, the president could have invited McConnell and McCarthy to help formulate a plan shortly after his inauguration. Instead, the White House released a $2.3 trillion wish list that it knew stood little chance of garnering a single Republican vote in the Senate. Allies praised its scope, which stretched “infrastructure” to include expanding access to long-term care under Medicaid; this antagonized Republicans, who attacked it relentlessly. Both sides understood it was a dead letter. It’s hard to take any of this seriously, and six weeks later, nothing has happened.

No wonder Americans think poorly of Washington.

It’s true that Biden doesn’t need Republican votes to pass an infrastructure bill. The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that it can be taken up as part of budget reconciliation, with passage requiring only a simple majority. But that doesn’t mean Schumer should try to ram it through on a party-line vote with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

The fact is, Republicans have good ideas that ought to be considered, including on the topic that will be the biggest point of contention: how to pay for it all. Biden and Democrats want to roll back the 2017 tax cuts and raise other taxes. That’s a non-starter for most Republicans. Senator Mitt Romney has worked with Senator Shelley Moore Capito and a group of 20 lawmakers on a counter-proposal financed partly through user fees. As Romney said, “The pay-for ought to come from people who are using it. So if it’s an airport, the people who are flying. If it’s a port, the people who are shipping into the port. If it’s a rail system, the people who are using the rails. If it’s highways, it ought to be gas if it’s a gasoline-powered vehicle.”

Capito has said she’s open to raising the gas tax, which is long overdue, or to a charge based on vehicle miles traveled. Utah has recently begun a VMT pilot program, which has the benefit of generating revenue even as electric vehicles become increasingly common. A mix of user fees and taxes — in other words, a compromise — would be ideal.

Republican senators met with Biden on May 13 to discuss these ideas and called the talks productive.

Enlisting Republicans can be helpful to Democrats in other ways, too. For instance, Schumer could blame the other side for ditching Biden’s Medicaid provision (which belongs in a health-care bill) and the president’s proposal to require that projects use unionized labor (which will raise costs). There are better ways to help working people than excluding non-union workers and reducing the amount of infrastructure that can be built and repaired.

The president was right to campaign as a bridge-builder. But building bridges — and roads and other infrastructure — requires cooperation, flexibility and pragmatism, as any engineer will tell you. To succeed, Biden will need to keep showing more of those virtues, and not just on taxes and infrastructure. It’s a worthy goal for the next hundred days, and well beyond.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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