Progressive activists have mostly kept their cool as President Joe Biden’s infrastructure negotiations with Republican senators stretch on longer than planned.
But with talks ongoing and new concessions being offered, leaders of liberal organizations say they’re losing patience, fearful that the White House is wasting time in pursuit of Republican votes that are unlikely to materialize.
The latest bout of anxiety came this week after Biden met with the lead Republican negotiator, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and backed off his insistence that a narrow infrastructure bill be paid for by a hike in the corporate tax rate. Instead, the president floated a corporate tax floor of 15 percent, arguing that it would raise money by going after companies that have avoided tax liabilities. It also avoids crossing Republican’s red line: undoing parts of Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill that lowered corporate rates to 21 percent.
“We’ve seen this dynamic over and over again where Democrats are effectively negotiating with themselves, watering down their own package, not in exchange for votes but in exchange for the hope of keeping the negotiations going,” said Leah Greenberg, a co-founder of the liberal organization Indivisible. “And the inevitable result is that what passes is weaker and less popular than what would have passed if they had gotten bigger and bolder to begin with.”
“Every day that passes where we’re still sort of hopelessly pursuing a mirage of bipartisanship is a day that we’re not moving on to the priorities that Democrats were actually elected to do,” Greenberg added, pointing to voting rights, equal pay and nondiscrimination laws.
The rising anger over infrastructure talks is feeding calls in the progressive political ecosystem to ramp up the pressure on Biden to put an end to the negotiations and move ahead with efforts to pass a spending bill through a process known as budget reconciliation, which requires just 50 votes in the Senate. Up to this point, liberal organizations have largely given the president space to negotiate and have praised not just the scope of his proposals — especially on Covid relief — but his willingness to move quickly.
The White House had to earn that trust. According to more than a dozen activists and movement leaders interviewed for this piece, the White House has taken the task of progressive outreach incredibly seriously. A host of close Biden aides are routinely in touch with top officials on a range of policy fronts. There are regular meetings and informal chats, during which frank discussions are encouraged.
“They have a whole engagement team and there are so many different calls,” said one top official at a leading environmental group. “They do a pretty incredible job with outreach. I think the reason why there is not more progressive frustration is that they do feel heard.”