The most successful legislators understand and embrace the art of compromise. Often it's the only way to get anything viewed as legitimate done in a legislature that goes beyond a one-party system (like in politically backward red hellholes like Wyoming, Mississippi, Tennessee or Alabama). Orlando progressive Democrat Alan Grayson passed more legislation when he was in Congress than any other member-- and he was in the minority party for most of hid tenure! In their respective state legislatures Ted Lieu (L.A.) and Pramila Jayapal (Seattle) passed cutting-edge progressive legislation with Republican votes.
Grayson told me he tended to work with people-- regardless of party-- "who gave a shit." If someone cared, he felt there was a way to find some common ground without abandoning any principles or values. "On our side the aisle, the political class is resolved to employ focus groups to try to validate meaningless phrases that sound good to them, and then to force-feed them to the electorate through ad-buys... This resulted in Clinton’s 'Stronger Together' motto, which no one understood, much less believed. (And I say that having voted for her, and having wanted her to win.) This sort of tasteless political oatmeal is what makes it hard for ordinary people to identify the Democratic Party with any tangible proposals that might improve their lives, and it creates a vacuum that the other side fills by promising that a Democratic victory would hasten the apocalypse. But the most flavorless of all this flavorless oatmeal is the abuse of the term 'bipartisanship' by, well, people who stand for nothing. Here is a very easy way to judge whether such a sentiment is real or not: has it resulted in any actual legislation? After all, that’s the job of a Member of Congress, according to the Constitution. If you see any actual legislation, then you can argue whether it made the world better or worse, but without that, the term 'bipartisanship' is lipless lip service. In my first term, with the Democrats in charge, I passed the only real bipartisan accomplishment of the 111th Congress, the law to audit the Federal Reserve. In my last two terms, with the Republicans in charge, I passed 121 laws through the House. I also accounted, personally, for ½ of all the amendments passed by the Science Committee, and 1/3 of all the amendments passed by the Foreign Affairs Committee. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of these was 'bipartisan'; I couldn’t have passed any of them unless I had GOP votes. Further, in their own ways, every single one of them was progressive. When I passed a law extending mental health benefits to veterans-- after 250,000 of them came back from Afghanistan and Iraq with permanent brain abnormalities you could see with a CAT scan-- that was progressive to me, whatever may have led the GOP to vote for it. That’s real bipartisanship, not the 'bipartisanship' that begins and ends with right-wingers calling right-wingers 'my esteemed colleague from Whosits.' Barney Frank had an interesting point to make in this regard-- he constantly reminded others that anonymous polling of Capitol Hill staff named him both the most partisan and the most bipartisan Member of Congress. Or, to put it another way, bipartisanship is judged not by words, but by deeds.
Back in 2017 Ted Lieu was tasked by the Congressional Progressive Caucus to come up with a modern day infrastructure plan that could garner widespread support across the political spectrum. His plan was widely heralded as brilliant and ready-made for Trump if he really wanted to put America first. That was just a slogan, not a plan. So 4 years ago, Lieu explained why Trump should ditch his own inadequate plan and adopt the 21st Century New Deal For Jobs. "America’s infrastructure is desperately in need of repair," he said. "This year, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated $4.6 trillion in infrastructure needs, of which more than $2 trillion did not have estimated funding. The American people deserve to have a serious conversation about how to address these needs. To fund infrastructure projects, President Trump's relatively small and incoherent plan would use irresponsible tax gimmicks that benefit Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers. My colleagues and I know that Americans cannot afford to settle for this scam. Instead, we have introduced the 21st Century New Deal for Jobs to ensure that Congress boldly addresses our infrastructure needs and supports a plan that creates millions of jobs without sacrificing protections for workers and the environment."
Like Grayson's description of Barney Frank, Ted is very partisan... and very bipartisan at the same time. Confusing? I asked him about that not so long ago. "I have always believed that people of good will, intelligence, and patriotism can disagree on policy," he told me. "I think it's important to try to work in a bipartisan way where possible. I drive my staff crazy sometimes, but I am always asking them to find me a Republican co-lead for our legislative ideas. It is much easier to move legislation through the process if you have bipartisan support from the outset. There are some issues upon which I will most likely never agree with my Republican colleagues. But the truth is there are many issues where there is a fair amount of common ground to be reached. I also try not to let disagreements on one issue impact potential partnerships on other issues. Just because I disagree with a Republican colleague on gun safety or abortion doesn't mean I won't work with them on marijuana legalization or government transparency. I will not compromise on my principals-- but I can search for common ground on good public policy. In my view the key to being a good legislator is being able to tell the difference."
My problem with "compromise" in Congress, though, is that many conservatives from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- Blue Dogs, New Dems, No Labels, Problem Solvers... you know, the ones who owe their political careers to corporate campaign donors-- never understood what compromise is all about. They think it means adopting the other party's position. Yesterday, for example, we saw how the corporately-funded Problem Solvers Caucus-- "bipartisan" but 100% pro-status quo-- is working towards derailing even a modest corporate tax hike to fund desperately-needed infrastructure improvements in favor of highly unpopular and unfair regressive taxation like a gas tax or a mileage tax levied against electric vehicles.
Later in the day, another hardcore corporate whore, conservative Joe Manchin, adopted another piece of the Republican Party platform towards infrastructure. While the House "Problem Solvers" went after the funding mechanism, Manchin backed up the narrow and reactionary Republican Party definition of infrastructure. He was part of a press conference-- with Republicans-- calling on Biden to break up his visionary plan so that nothing remotely progressive could ever pass. That's the quintessential conservative strategy for "compromise." He whined, "Why don't you take the greatest need that we have and do it on something that we all agree on?" Other conservative Senate Dems agree, particularly the two assholes from Delaware, Coons and Carper, which makes me a little suspicious about Biden's own commitment to the White House proposal.
And speaking of Manchin, he had already forced Biden to back down off his already too modest proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% (it should be the pre-Trump rate of 35%). Manchin threatened to veto the whole package unless Biden substituted the 28% with 25%... which Biden promptly did. Like a shark who tasted blood, Manchin now wants to infrastructure bill to just fill potholes and sturdy some collapsing bridges and leave it at that.
NPR reported today that unions in West Virginia are mobilizing against Manchin-- finally! "[U]nions in West Virginia," reported Don Gonyea, "which argue that the future of the state's economy depends on Biden's proposal, took Manchin's line as a cue to mobilize and to start educating their membership and the general public about what's at stake. 'It's really important to break down the aspects of the jobs plan state by state,' said Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, who promised to put a special emphasis on Manchin's home state. The SEIU represents thousands of health care workers who earn minimum wage in West Virginia-- workers who are overwhelmingly female. A proposed $400 billion would be directed toward the home care industry under the Biden package. The SEIU estimates that would mean improved pay and benefits and an additional 6,000 jobs in West Virginia, a state with an aging population in need of such care." Henry is insisting that the arch-conservative Democrat must be made to understand that home care-- jobs-- deserves to be part of an infrastructure plan. She told NPR that Manchin "needs to vote yes on both rebuilding roads and bridges in West Virginia, but also in investing in the home care workforce in his state." Here's an ad the Working Families Party is running in West Virginia right now:
Vikki Tully is a native West Virginian. The 64-year-old Head Start teacher introduces herself by saying, "I was raised in a union home. I'm a coal miner's daughter." She is also an officer with SEIU Local 1199, which represents home care workers.
Lately she's been driving the winding highways and backroads through the Appalachian Mountains to meet with home care workers all over the state. She's there to let them know what they can do to make their voice heard and to ask them to sign personalized cards urging Manchin to support the infrastructure plan.
Tully also wants Manchin to remember that unions got voters to the polls in 2018 when he was last on the ballot. He narrowly won. "We stood up for him to get him where he's at; he needs to stand with us now," Tully said.
One thing stands out as you watch this union effort: Unlike so many political campaigns, it's all very polite.
Tully says that's a bit unusual for the SEIU, which is well-known for its "in your face" activism.
"But that's not what it's going to take right now," she said. "You can catch more flies with honey than you can vinegar. So we're trying to go that route now."
Then, after a pause, she added, "until it's needed to do it the other way."
...This week, Manchin told reporters on a conference call that the infrastructure bill should focus on more traditional infrastructure-- roads, bridges, rail, airports — and also bringing broadband internet to every corner of rural states like West Virginia.
That would appear to be bad news for those applauding the Biden administration's much broader definition, which includes home care, the promotion of electric vehicles and other measures. Manchin said some big items in the Biden plan-- like home care-- can be addressed in separate legislation. But that could make such programs more difficult to pass.
"Yep, we're definitely into a Joe Manchin moment." That's how West Virginia University political scientist John Kilwein describes it.
"This is his classic role," Kilwein continued, "how he envisions himself as the go-between the two parties and the kind of the common-sense guy from a rural state that can bring some down-home intelligence to the Capitol."
Hanging over the infrastructure debate are two recent moves by Manchin. He's now a co-sponsor of the pro-labor PRO Act-- legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize. But he also, last month, rejected a labor-backed $15-an-hour minimum wage. That was a stinging defeat for many of those same union members pressing him now on infrastructure.
It all makes the effort to win support for Biden's plan a delicate dance for labor groups. Right now, the fight is over infrastructure, but with Manchin at center stage in a 50-50 Senate, it's a dance that's likely to continue on issue after issue, well beyond infrastructure.