Biden achieves conditional bipartisanship

By Jules Witcover

President Joe Biden’s seemingly fruitless pursuit of bipartisanship with Congress has scored an initial breakthrough in a surprise deal with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and a handful of Republicans on infrastructure repair and renewal across the country.

It came Thursday afternoon in a conciliatory announcement by the president.

“Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal, and that’s what it means to compromise, “ he said. “And it reflects something important: It reflects consensus. The heart of democracy requires consensus.”

At the same time, Biden warned that his acceptance depended on a parallel-track reconciliation bill. “If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” he added. “It’s in tandem.”

The bipartisanship deal also enhanced Manchin’s political influence in his ability to position himself as an effective voice for the same bipartisanship Biden has championed ever since his 36 years in the Senate.

In a later news conference, the president said: “I know there are some in my party who discouraged me from seeking agreement with our Republican colleagues, who said that we should go bigger and go alone. To them I say this: I’ve already shown in my young presidency I’m prepared to move the country forward. … We can find common ground.”

But he also declared: “We’ve devoted far too much energy to competing with one another and not nearly enough energy competing with the rest of the world to win in the 21st century.”

Much more is at stake for Biden, however, than his $973 billion infrastructure package. The rest of his very ambitious legislative agenda, also including coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing climate change and opposing defunding of local policing, will be on the table in coming months.

Approaching next year are the midterm congressional elections in which the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate could be in jeopardy, and in the House as well.

Once again, the old Republican cry to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, is likely be revived, against which Biden has been a principal defender.

Republicans in Congress continue to refuse to support creation of a special commission to investigate the origins of the January 6 insurrection against the U.S. Capitol, touted by former president Donald Trump.

As result, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to launch a Democratic inquiry into it, though it inevitably will generate less public credibility than one with full Republican sanction and participation.

In any event, President Biden’s repeated call for bipartisanship, often dismissed by critics as unreasonable or unattainable, now enhances his own credibility, while the jury remains out on whether it can produce genuine two-party cooperation and positive results.

By Paul Wager