How Build Back Better Was Derailed — For Now | National Review

How Build Back Better Was Derailed — For Now | National Review

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly Senate lunch at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 21, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Last night, as it was becoming clear that the Senate would not be able to advance the Democrats’ partisan reconciliation bill this year, Representative Cori Bush released a disappointed public statement.

Bush is a member of the so-called “squad” of younger and more extreme progressives in the House. Reflecting on where things stood with the Democrats’ agenda at this point, she said:

After spending months building support for the President’s entire agenda, I voted ‘No’ on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package because the Build Back Better Act had not yet passed the Senate, and the Senators who had been blocking lifesaving funding had not yet made any public commitments to support the bill. I put my reputation on the line to make it clear that if we want to deliver the entire, much-needed, and long overdue Biden agenda, we must not undermine our power as a government nor the power of the people by placing the fate of Build Back Better at the feet of one Senator: Joe Manchin. I dealt with the unfair criticism that came my way because St. Louis so desperately needs the Build Back Better Act — from climate action and universal preschool, to community violence prevention and the expanded Child Tax Credit. Today’s reporting that the Build Back Better Act may be put on the shelf for the foreseeable future is alarming.

Her point was hard to miss. She thought separating the infrastructure bill from the Democrats’ more partisan agenda, let alone moving that infrastructure bill in a bipartisan way first without a commitment to move the rest of the agenda, could doom that larger agenda. And she now thinks that fear has been proven right.

This was of course exactly the strategy of most of the Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the Senate. They wanted it for its own sake, to be sure, and also to help preserve the filibuster (which their effort surely did help to do). But they also saw that separating the more popular and traditional legislative elements from the more partisan and radical ones could make it much harder for the Democrats to move their broader agenda.

Three months ago, I wrote around here that I thought:

Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill has badly undermined the Democrats’ capacity to pursue their more partisan progressive agenda. That doesn’t mean it will doom that agenda, of course, but it has harmed it. Separating actual infrastructure spending from the more ambitious progressive agenda has intensified the divisions between moderate and progressive Democrats, and has set their interests squarely against one another, rather than giving them a single legislative vehicle to champion for their separate purposes.

That is more or less what Bush suggests happened as well.

Concerns about this strategy among House Republicans and others on the right were not unreasonable. It was a risky thing to do, and it easily could have gone very differently. But the risk does seem to have paid off.

That doesn’t meant the Democrats’ reconciliation bill is dead. It’s still entirely possible that they will pass some form of it next year. But I think there is no question that their ambitions for that bill have been dramatically scaled back, and that its prospects have been badly undermined, by the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

If the infrastructure bill had not happened, it’s very likely that the Democrats would have passed a larger Build Back Better bill by this point. So although the battle over Build Back Better is far from over, it’s pretty clear that the strategic logic of McConnell and the Senate Republicans who backed the infrastructure bill was right.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.