Manchin is in no rush to strike an infrastructure deal with Republicans – and it’s giving some Democrats ‘bad flashbacks’ to futile Obamacare talks 12 years ago

Joe Manchin 2
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) wants Democrats to slow down on infrastructure.

  • Bipartisan infrastructure talks are likely to stretch into June with centrist Democrats reluctant to pull the plug.
  • Some Democrats are wary, citing failed efforts to secure GOP support for Obamacare in 2009.
  • “I’d keep pushing forward as hard as I could, but there’s not much time left,” former Democratic senator Max Baucus said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

With negotiations on a major infrastructure package likely to stretch into June, the White House is poised to blow past its self-imposed Memorial Day deadline, which was meant to ensure significant progress on a bipartisan plan.

Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) are preparing to make a $1 trillion offer as soon as Thursday. Another bipartisan group of six senators that includes Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Me.) are preparing another offer to President Joe Biden in case those talks stall.

Manchin is insisting on more time to secure a deal, saying on Tuesday “this is the long game, not a short game.” The White House want to approve a multi-trillion spending package to upgrade roads and bridges, in addition to setting up universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, and cash payments to families.

But some Democrats doubt Republicans’ genuine interest in giving Biden a bipartisan victory and are wary of the ongoing talks turning into a time-consuming dud. They cite huge differences that remain to be bridged on the size, scope, and basic definition of infrastructure. Democrats are anxious to shepherd along new economic programs using their thin majorities in the House and evenly divided Senate.

Their potential to drag into the summer is prompting comparisons to negotiations over a decade ago between President Barack Obama and Republicans on overhauling the healthcare system.

“When I read the comments from Sen. Manchin asking for more time, all of a sudden I had bad flashbacks to Obamacare where there was a push and pull between the desire for more time and the reality that Republicans were never going for it,” Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told Insider.

Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator and one of the architects of Obamacare, said in an interview he was getting “somewhat” a case of déjà vu seeing the infrastructure discussions unfold.

“I’d keep pushing forward as hard as I could, but there’s not much time left. I’d give it a month or so and then tell Schumer to push reconciliation,” the former Montana lawmaker said, referring to a legislative tactic available to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve some bills with only a simple Senate majority.

“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end”

obama sign affordable care act
President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House on March 23, 2010.

In 2009, the Obama administration chased support from a bloc of moderate GOP senators for the plan that became the Affordable Care Act. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus spent five months trying to draw backing from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the panel, for a more “durable” health law.

That effort collapsed amid sharp disagreements on tax increases and whether Americans should be obligated to buy health insurance. Republicans stepped up their attacks and cast the healthcare bill as federal overreach, with Grassley falsely warning of the government “pulling the plug on grandma” at an Iowa town hall that August.

Anger over how voters perceived Obamacare contributed to major Republican victories in the 2010 midterms, one that lost the House for Democrats and effectively crippled the next six years of Obama’s legislative agenda. Now, Baucus sees his experience as a cautionary tale as Democrats attempt to forge ahead with a massive two-part package to reconfigure the economy with new spending on physical infrastructure, healthcare, and education.

“I doubt you’re going to see much bipartisanship in the end. Frankly, a lot of Republicans would rather not see a bipartisan bill,” Baucus told Insider. “They say they would, but deep down they don’t.”

Baucus said he believes next year’s midterms are already factoring into the negotiations, in the sense that a party-line reconciliation bill from Democrats would almost surely include tax hikes on the wealthy and large firms, and a lot of Republicans “are going to run against those tax increases in 2022.”

max baucus
Former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in an interview he was “very concerned” about Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s endgame on infrastructure, pointing to his recent comment about being “100% focused” on thwarting the Biden administration. The GOP leader also made similar remarks early on in the Obama administration.

“I’m always going to try and get a bipartisan approach, but it’s certainly a bigger lift after a statement like that,” he said.

Yet other Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said they weren’t troubled by the state of the discussions. “I think we’re on the timeframe that I always thought we’d be on,” he told Insider. “Thus far, it’s soliciting their opinions.”

Kaine continued: “Even if we go reconciliation, we will put things in that bill that will be extremely attractive to Republican governors, to Republican mayors, to Republican interest groups.” He said he thought it was possible for Democrats to “pick up votes we weren’t expecting.”

The White House used reconciliation to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill in March. Biden met with Senate Republicans once in early February in a bid to broker a deal. But he ultimately abandoned those talks by the end of the month after they only put $618 billion on the table. No GOP lawmakers voted for the Biden stimulus law.

There are signs that Democratic leaders are loathe to avoid watering down bills for the veneer of bipartisanship. “Look at 200[9] where we spent a year and a half trying to get something good done, ACA, Obamacare, and we didn’t do all the other things that had to be done,” Schumer said on MSNBC in late January. “We will not repeat that mistake.”

Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats will move ahead with a “big bold plan” in July, suggesting reconciliation looms in the near future. Still, Capito said her GOP group would “not walk away” from the negotiating table anytime soon.

“I think you go as far as you can, but then there comes a time where the other side is just not seemingly negotiating in good faith, so you gotta stop and pass your own bill,” said Baucus.

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The stimulus includes money to help 10.7 million pension plans. Republicans don’t see how that’s pandemic aid.

Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

  • Biden’s stimulus bill includes $86 billion in pension funding, which Democrats say is necessary.
  • Republicans disagree, saying pension funding has nothing to do with pandemic relief.
  • Pension plans were at risk prior to COVID-19, and the aid will help around 10 million Americans.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan passed the House on Wednesday, setting it up to become law this week, but where the money in the bill is going remains controversial. One of the controversial recipients: pension plans.

Democrats included $86 billion in direct aid for pension funds in the stimulus bill, which will help the 10.7 million active and retired workers who fall under multiemployer pension plans, and lawmakers say doing so is a necessary component of pandemic relief.

“Wall Street’s reckless bets that crashed our economy in 2008 hit union pensions like a knife in the ribs,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Big banks got a bailout, but workers and retirees got hung out to dry – and COVID made it all worse. Democrats made this right for America’s workers.”

But Republican lawmakers – who have consistently opposed the size of the bill – argue that pension funding has nothing to do with pandemic relief.

It’s true that years before the pandemic, millions of pension plans were at risk.

When the US economy fell into recession in 2008, those who invested their savings in target-date funds experienced significant losses due to losses in the market. The National Public Pension Coalition chalked the loss up to “Wall Street greed,” given that many Americans invested in hedge funds and private equity as part of their pensions plans. Later, in 2018, lawmakers held a hearing on the solvency of multiemployer pension plans, when the Multiemployer Program had a deficit of $65 billion in 2017 and would fail a few years later without more funding.

Here’s how the coronavirus did – and didn’t – contribute to pension plans’ shortage.

Bill Hagerty 2
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

The argument against pension funding

The $1.9 trillion price tag on the stimulus bill is a cap, and if lawmakers want more funding within the bill for a specific issue, then funding must be taken away from something else. Republicans argue that funding for pensions is taking money away from areas that Americans need more, like unemployment benefits.

Insider spoke to Marc Goldwein, head of policy at the Committee for a Responsible Budget, on February 16, and he said that although a solution is needed to salvage multiemployer pensions, pension funding has nothing to do with pandemic relief.

“That multiemployer pension bailout in the bill cost about $56 billion, which would be enough to extend unemployment benefits to the end of September, and possibly a bit further,” Goldwein told Insider.

While Senate Democrats did end up extending unemployment benefits through September, it came at the cost of decreasing the benefits from $400 to $300 each week.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced a proposal separate from the stimulus bill to help failing pension plans on March 5, and he said in a statement that without his plan, taxpayers will “be on the hook for another bailout down the road.”

“Not only is their [the Democrats’] plan totally unrelated to the pandemic, but it also does nothing to address the root cause of the problem,” Grassley said.

And Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee said on March 3: “Just to show you how bad this bill is, there’s more money in this to bail out union pension funds than all the money combined for vaccine distribution and testing.”

Sherrod Brown
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

The argument for pension funding

Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio said in a statement on March 6 that of the 10 million people under multiemployer pension plans, 1.5 million are in plans that are quickly running out of money.

“Many of these troubled plans cover workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 public health crisis, such as trucking, food processing, grocery store workers, and others,” Brown said. “Even before the pandemic, workers, businesses, and retirees faced a crisis and were in dire need of our help.”

Although Republicans say that funding for pension plans can be done in a separate bill, Brown and Democrats argued it is relevant to pandemic aid given that workers under those plans have been on the front lines during the pandemic.

And Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, who pushed for the measure on the House side, told HuffPost on Sunday that failure to provide pension aid now could be costlier down the road if retirees need government aid, like food stamps, to get by.

The bill is now headed to Biden’s desk with no Republican support, and Republican lawmakers have said that if Biden had included them more in the process, the outcome might have been different.

For example, after meeting with 10 Republican senators on February 1 to discuss a smaller stimulus bill, those senators said the lack of outreach from Biden afterward played into their inabilities to support the package.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told reporters on February 23 that the lack of consultation “makes it hard for any of our members, even those that might be inclined to do so, to vote for it. To vote for anything.”

With passing his stimulus plan being a priority, Biden has not yet said how he will choose to approach future spending bills, but should the next bill be on infrastructure, the president expressed willingness to work with both parties.

“There are not many Republican or Democratic roads and bridges,” Biden told reporters on February 11. “I really, honest to God, never have thought of … infrastructure as being a partisan issue,” he added.

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McConnell, Graham, and Grassley voted against Bill Clinton in his 1998 impeachment. They just acquitted Trump of inciting an insurrection.

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • The Senate acquitted Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection in his second impeachment trial.
  • Some senators who voted in Trump’s impeachment trial also voted in Clinton’s more than two decades ago.
  • Five current GOP senators who voted to remove Clinton just voted to acquit Trump.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Senate acquitted Donald Trump Saturday in the impeachment trial over his role in inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6. The vote was largely split along party lines, with all 50 Democrats and seven Republicans voting to convict, and 43 Republicans voting to acquit.

Six of the Republicans who voted for acquittal were also sitting senators in 1999, during the impeachment trial of then-president Bill Clinton. Five of them voted to remove Clinton from office:

  • Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
  • Chuck Grassley of Iowa
  • Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma
  • Richard Shelby of Alabama
  • Mike Crapo of Idaho

All five voted to convict Clinton of obstruction of justice, while all but Shelby voted to convict him of perjury, or lying under oath. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was also a sitting senator during Clinton’s trial but voted not guilty on both counts. She was among the Republicans who voted to convict Trump.

Read more: Meet the little-known power player with the ‘hardest job’ on Capitol Hill. She’s shaping Trump’s impeachment trial and Joe Biden’s agenda.

The Senate acquittal on Saturday came a month after Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for incitement of insurrection over the Capitol siege, which resulted in multiple deaths and delayed the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

Clinton’s impeachment stemmed from his testimony in a sexual harassment case brought on by a woman named Paula Jones, during which he infamously denied having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. An investigation by an independent council ultimately concluded Clinton had committed impeachable offenses in four categories: perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and abuse of power.

The Republican-led House of Representatives brought four articles of impeachment against Clinton in 1998, with two – perjury and obstruction of justice – getting the votes needed to advance to a Senate trial.

Some of the Republicans who were serving in the House then are also senators now.

These are the sitting GOP senators who voted to acquit Trump Saturday, and to impeach Clinton on at least one article when they were members of the House:

  • Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
  • Roy Blunt of Missouri
  • Jerry Moran of Kansas
  • Rob Portman of Ohio
  • John Thune of South Dakota
  • Roger Wicker of Mississippi

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina was also a representative at the time and voted to impeach Clinton. However, in a surprising vote, he was one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump on Saturday.

The latest impeachment trial was Trump’s second. He was first impeached in January 2020 over concerns that he abused his power to interfere in the 2020 election. The House and Senate votes were also along party lines then, with only one Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, voting to convict.

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