The Corner

Politics & Policy

Conservatives Should Focus on the Reconciliation Package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) takes questions at her weekly news conference with Capitol Hill reporters at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 22, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Some conservatives are troubled by the bipartisan infrastructure bill that is almost sure to pass the Senate early this week, citing concerns about the climate provisions and the potential for cronyism and the $256 billion of additional deficit spending it would create.

It would be nice if at least as much energy on the political right was spent on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, a different bill that would expand and create social and climate programs.

The two are linked, with House speaker Nancy Pelosi promising not to consider the infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes the reconciliation package. But some conservatives are making too much of this, misreading the politics. If the infrastructure bill fails to pass the Senate, it’s not as if President Biden or Speaker Pelosi would suddenly give up on their ambitions to expand and create social programs and policies to curb climate change.

Similarly, some conservatives have made too much of recent comments by Democratic senators Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.), who indicated that they wouldn’t support the reconciliation package unless the Senate passes the infrastructure bill. These comments were made in the context of bipartisan negotiations on infrastructure, and were likely aimed at pressuring Democratic leadership not to lose patience with the negotiations and move on to the reconciliation package. If Republicans were to tank the infrastructure bill, we shouldn’t expect Sinema and Manchin to shut down the reconciliation package.

Here are some of the items in the reconciliation package:

  • A five-year extension of the monthly child allowance
  • Tax incentives for clean energy and climate-friendly vehicles
  • A universal pre-kindergarten program
  • Around a quarter of a trillion dollars for child care
  • A huge expansion of community college and Pell Grant funding
  • A paid family and medical leave program, among other provisions.

To fund this, Biden would hike taxes on individuals and businesses, along with increasing the deficit.

Any one of these spending items should spark robust public debate. Policy experts should make recommendations. Congressional hearings should be held. White papers and op-eds should be published. Advocacy groups should lobby. Any one of these items should capture the policy debate.

Instead, the president’s stated plan is to ram them through on a party-line vote, with little debate or discussion.

In calling for the return of the Tea Party, Philip Klein notes that “the opposition to [Biden’s] sweeping agenda is practically nonexistent.” I’m not sure we need the Tea Party back, but Klein is right about the startling absence of opposition to the president’s massive ambitions for social and climate policy.

Which brings us back to the unfortunate decision in some parts of the political right to focus so much on the bipartisan infrastructure bill and so little on the reconciliation package. The former isn’t perfect. The latter is much worse. Where’s the debate? Where’s the opposition? Where’s the outrage?

Keep your eye on the ball, conservatives. Republican-on-Republican political attacks are captivating. But they aren’t the main event.

Republicans are unified in opposition to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, and perhaps because of this are treating it as an afterthought and focusing more on their intraparty divisions over the infrastructure package.

This is a mistake. If they want to reduce its size and scope, the GOP should be rallying public opinion against the reconciliation bill.

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