“We agreed on a number, which was very very good, $2 trillion for infrastructure. Originally we had started a little lower, even the president was willing to push it up to $2 trillion. And that is a very good thing.” — Democratic Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer to reporters outside the White House on Tuesday, April 30th.
“Here we go again” seems to be the refrain from not just leftists like us here at Paste politics, but Democratic loyalists.
By most objective measures, this seems like a wildly naïve political miscalculation by a Democratic Party whose brand is wildly naïve political miscalculations, but if something seems that obvious, it's good to maintain some skepticism that things may not be exactly as they look. Perhaps there is something here that we are missing. Based on recent history, there most likely isn't, but let's take a look at the most likely scenario—the Democrats playing Charlie Brown to the Republicans' Lucy pulling the football away again—and an unlikely scenario: the Democrats being savvy political manipulators.
The Most Likely Scenario
I'll let one of the vanguards of mindless centrism explain what this move most likely is while also expressing skepticism that it will actually work.
“We need common sense solutions,” is a phrase that instantly makes most Americans’ eyes glaze over, yet it is the signature crutch the Democratic Party has leaned on over the last forty years. “Bipartisanship” with a party who approves of a president who puts children in cages is an absurd notion, but unfortunately, “bipartisanship” is the only thing that most of the Democratic elite really truly believes in. Essentially how this bipartisan logic goes is that without Republican approval, Democrats cannot use their power. This approach fundamentally remakes the Democratic Party in the Republican Party’s image, and has helped lead us to our present dystopian moment.
If this is a simple “we need to get something done” move by Pelosi and Schumer, they should understand that the Natural Resources Defense Council denounced Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan in 2018 as an “unacceptable corporate giveaway,” that “would leave local residents all-but voiceless when it comes to the massive projects that will reshape their communities.” If they are acceding to Trump’s details, then Schumer and Pelosi deserve to be fired for cause, because this will not get anything done other than continue the bipartisan policy of upward wealth transfers.
The Unlikely Scenario
There is a chance that this is a savvy political play by two seasoned D.C. operatives who are very familiar with sinking political futures (it’s just usually those to their left who suffer from their expertise). This passage jumped out to me in the CBS report about Pelosi, Schumer and Trump’s meeting (emphasis mine):
But that number, reached in a meeting with only Democratic members present and no Republican members present, could be in jeopardy if Republicans lack the appetite for agreeing to spend that much.
This announcement that a number was reached came off the back of a meeting where Trump was the only public official representing the GOP. I know that Pelosi and Schumer are famously ineffective (the latter far more so than the former), but them alone in a room with Trump and people who work for Trump is a mismatch in their favor. Maybe they agree with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and the majority of the left—that this infrastructure deal most certainly won’t come to fruition because Trump is incompetent and McConnell is an authoritarian—and the goal here isn’t to make a deal, but to wound Trump and the GOP politically.
Now, this situation requires a 4D chess game where future plays are set up by the Democrats saying they got Trump to agree to a bigger number than Trump wanted before, and there is not much evidence I can point to in order to say there is a second stage to this plan, but there was one other passage in CBS’s report that made me wonder if there could be some advanced thinking to this:
In the 2018 infrastructure push, the former official said the president was “very involved” involved in discussions, and was “quite open” to a gas tax. But a gas tax never made it into the proposal, and would likely meet GOP opposition. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, now the House minority leader, supported an initiative to repeal the gas tax in California, and the former official said it’s hard to imagine McCarthy would be supportive of bringing any bill including a gas tax to the floor this time around.
What happened today is a meeting where Schumer said they agreed to a number ($2 trillion) for an infrastructure plan that the Democrats want centered around three principles (new federal funding, clean energy, and it must be carried out by businesses owned by women, veterans and other minorities). What’s supposedly next is figuring out how to pay for it, and a gas tax would be a devilishly clever way to both do something helpful policy-wise, and damaging to Trump electorally.
Gas taxes are historically unpopular (which is why they have not been raised in over 25 years), and enacting one in an election year would undoubtedly hurt Trump’s reelection prospects. They’re also fairly effective policy that must be part of any plan to get us off of a carbon dioxide emissions-based economy. The fact that Trump has expressed support for it makes this a very obvious play. Whether it is obvious enough for the Democrats to realize remains to be seen.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.