Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Infrastructure Posturing

I want to make a quick political/rhetorical point about the infrastructure bill that the Republicans are supposedly cooking up. My point is not substantive. I imagine the bill will be bad on the merits, but I obviously can't weigh in on that now.

Here's the point. Unions love big construction projects. The wedge that the Republicans are going to try to drive here is the same one that Trump used to get elected. Trump will continue to antagonize the Democratic base with his antics, including by smearing people on Twitter and (much more importantly) by continuing to hurt vulnerable people. The base will therefore feel driven to resist the infrastructure bill (and indeed any compromise with Trump). But the infrastructure bill will contain big construction projects that will be popular with the working class.

The Democrats will then be pushed into a difficult situation. They could try to compromise to get money for mass transit in big cities, but then the Republicans can strip that money out and accuse Democrats of favoring latte-sipping yuppies over "real America."

I'm just pointing this out to show that this isn't going to be like healthcare, where Republican rhetoric had been so disconnected from reality that the Democrats found it easy to embarrass them. Instead, this is going to be a classic political maneuver that will take a lot of skill to counteract. That's especially the case because the Republicans won't be nearly as divided as they were over healthcare, and they will be hungry for a win, and looking to do as much damage to the Democratic coalition as possible. Please think about this dynamic as you watch events unfold—Pelosi and Schumer are in a tough position, and it's not clear that they can accomplish anything with full-out resistance.

Edited to add: This is reminiscent of Trump's trip to Mexico in the late summer of 2016. Of course Trump's rhetoric had been ridiculously anti-Mexico, and it was commonly thought that the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico would be poisoned by a Trump presidency. But Enrique Peña Nieto made the foolhardy decision to invite both candidates to Mexico, and then his submissive behavior when Trump was there suggested that Trump could indeed pursue his policies without alienating countries he had targeted. It was a huge unforced error and it probably contributed to Trump's victory. (In fact it's fascinating to consider the possibility that Nieta swung the election.)

Now, unlike Nieto, the Democrats don't have the option of remaining silent. In fact I think there best move might be to get out in front of Trump. Set down some basic, reasonable requirements that his plan has to meet in order to get Democratic support, and then if his plan fits within those parameters, vote for it. But I admit, there are a lot of moving pieces here, and I could be wrong about the best approach.

Edited yet again to add: Krugman says that Trump's plan is not to do conventional infrastructure spending, but to hand out tax cuts for businesses that "build infrastructure." This would be in keeping with Trump's kleptocratic tendencies, and therefore there is good reason to expect it. This would also presumably pass muster with the House Freedom Caucus, although I don't have a good read on how much that group cares about deficits. In any case, that would be an easy bill to oppose, although it depends a bit on how credulous unions and unionized construction workers are.

I largely agree with Zed's points in the comments. My point is premised on a decent (but not necessarily great) infrastructure bill, which I think would be hard to oppose.


Blogger Zed said...

I am not sure the calculus is that hard (although as you say the optics of it might work out differently). Since this is about spending money the opposition of the freedom caucus is a given, and probably so is that of a few Republican senators. So the Dems might even be able to lose a few votes and still obstruct.

A key thing here is that no one in the GOP caucus seems to know how to write or pass legislation, except people like McConnell who are not interested in the infrastructure bill. So unless the Dems *volunteer* to help Trump out by writing a bill (which will probably then have all the good stuff stripped from it before passage), I think it is very likely that Trump comes up with a bill that is easy to oppose on the merits. Which would make the dilemma go away.

8:21 AM  
Blogger James said...

You could be right. However, I think the Freedom Caucus is probably not itching for another fight at this point, and I think its opposition to spending is opportunistic (that is, it would have opposed it under Obama, but will tolerate it under Trump).

Going to update the post with a few more thoughts though.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Zed said...

My reading of the freedom caucus is that if anything they're emboldened by what just happened.

You are right that, if a good/passable infrastructure bill gets all the way to the floor, it'll put the Dems in a bind. But I think the odds of something good emerging from the Republican policy-making process are low. So I tend to think it's smartest for Dems to wait for something to materialize and oppose it when it is predictably rubbish. (You could say this is what Republicans did with Obamacare but 52 < 60.)

I do not think the building trades unions are -- or should be treated as -- a major Democratic stakeholder. Not only have they sucked up to Trump -- http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/02/hows-embracing-trump-working-out-for-the-building-trades -- but I think most of their white members have been voting Republican for a few cycles now. In any case, if you let the Republicans negotiate an infrastructure bill among themselves, they will probably repeal Davis-Bacon while they are at it and make this issue go away.

A good way to sap this administration is to force them to come up with policies because they are so laughably bad at it. Doing their homework for them is a much worse gamble.

7:12 AM  

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