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Infrastructure Deal Hits Detour

June 30th, 2021 by dk

Democrats in Washington were caught playing “Bad Cop, Bad Cop” with Republicans on infrastructure initiatives last week. If you’ve never heard of this negotiating strategy, join the club. Here’s what happened and how you might make sense of it.

Just a few hours after a bipartisan infrastructure deal had been struck last Thursday, President Biden answered questions. He made clear — too clear, in hindsight — that he expected this bipartisan “hard infrastructure” bill to be accompanied by a “human infrastructure” bill that will be passed under budget reconciliation rules with only Democratic votes.

Biden didn’t have to say anything like that. He could have been the Good Cop, promising to work for both bills, signing whatever comes to his desk. He could have said that. He should have said that. And by Saturday afternoon, he was saying that.

The only Bad Cop in this negotiation should have been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Almost exactly three hours before Biden accidentally said the quiet part out loud, Pelosi gave the press a colorful quote that the bills would move in tandem or not at all: “There ain’t gonna be no bipartisan bill unless we are going to have the reconciliation bill.”

Pelosi controls what is brought to the House for a vote. She has the power to leave any bipartisan bill on hard infrastructure to languish unless or until the Senate delivers the partisan human infrastructure bill as well. Pelosi probably relished the opportunity to give Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans a taste of their own medicine.

The president won’t have any infrastructure bills to sign if Pelosi blocks either or both bills from reaching the House floor. So Biden didn’t need to say what he would do if one bill arrived without the other. The plan was already set and stated.

Maybe he felt the need to put conservative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on notice that their support of both tracks would be essential. It’s not uncommon for Senators to ignore anything said or done in the House of Representatives.

Pelosi showed a shrewd communication strategy to make sure her message broke through. Using “ain’t” is strong language from the always-composed Speaker. Would Senators take notice? We’ll never know because the President was stepping on the Speaker’s lines, confusing any “Good Cop, Bad Cop” strategy.

Why didn’t Biden take the high road? It was available to him. He may have simply strayed from the script. The man is so earnest he sometimes can’t help saying what he believes should be said — even when he shouldn’t be the one saying it. Remember how Biden’s quip about gay marriage broke President Obama’s recalcitrance?

Will this faux pas doom the entire infrastructure package? Probably not. There’s plenty of reasons both parties want something passed and Pelosi will not be denied her legacy achievement. But last week’s misstep does shift the center of gravity.

The infrastructure bills that pass will be less ambitious and more arduous than liberal Democrats had hoped. We can’t be certain that’s not exactly what President Biden, an inveterate centrist, wanted in his heart of hearts.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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