“We have a deal,” President Biden remarked at the White House today, endorsing a mostly neoliberal group of senators’ efforts to find a bipartisan path forward on infrastructure, the administration’s top political priority.
For any bipartisan bill to actually hold up, it will need to have few, if any, Democratic defections. That’s because most Republicans simply aren’t going to vote to give Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a legislative victory of any sort.
And even this supposed breakthrough could all just be an illusion: Biden made it clear today he’s only going to sign a bipartisan bill if it’s simultaneously accompanied by another bill that makes additional investments.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Biden told reporters, referring to the bipartisan framework. “It’s in tandem.”
Hard to imagine Republicans are going to accept that.
Let’s set aside that caveat for now, though, and take a look at what’s in this bipartisan infrastructure framework — the part of the package that is supposedly going to win Republican votes. Only a few, of course: The number of Republicans interested in dealmaking — both in the Senate and in the House — is rather small.
That small group of Republicans nevertheless does have something rather important going for them: Democratic colleagues like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who are desperate for the good old days of bipartisan dealmaking, and certainly don’t mind agreeing to neoliberal nonsense like this:
Public-private partnerships, private activity bonds, direct pay bonds and asset recycling for infrastructure investment
Emphasis is mine.
What’s “asset recycling”? Good question. It’s basically a corporate mumbo jumbo style phrase that means privatization. Sort of like how “enhanced interrogation techniques” was developed as a way to avoid saying torture.
It’s just two words of jargon near the bottom of the infrastructure plan the White House posted Thursday — “asset recycling” — but for a slew of investing titans that longed to see that phrase, it’s reason to rejoice. The prospect of investing in massive U.S. government projects — say, by leasing an airport and reaping revenue for decades — has tantalized Wall Street ever since talk about a big infrastructure push broke out in the wake of 2008 financial crisis.
The document the White House published today is only a framework and doesn’t contain details. But Wall Streeters are already getting excited:
“The bipartisan group that put this bill together has been keenly focused on the importance of private investment, including the concept of asset recycling, which has been championed by infrastructure funds for a number of years,” said DJ Gribbin, the former special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy from 2017 to 2018 who is also a senior operating partner at Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners.
President Joe Biden’s administration could kick off an asset-recycling initiative with federal government-owned power and generation companies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration, Gribbin said. He added that government-owned dams around the country that generate hydroelectric power and haven’t been well maintained could also be part of the program. Other federally-owned infrastructure that investors have long coveted include the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.
Emphasis is mine.
Every time a new presidential administration arrives in D.C., whether Republican or Democratic, there always seems to be some kind of a threat to the Bonneville Power Administration. Basta! Enough! The BPA belongs to the people.
During the Trump years, we set up a website to track threats to BPA’s future… Protect NW Power. It’s nice to have that in place now that BPA is seemingly once again at risk… this time, indefensibly, from a Democratic administration.
Now is the time to put a stop to this absurdity. Like our public lands, public infrastructure systems such as the TVA and the Pacific Northwest-based BPA are national treasures. They cannot and they must not be privatized.
No leasing. No sales.
No all around.
Public infrastructure must stay in public hands.
If this “asset recycling” nonsense is not taken out of this framework, then the framework is indefensible. Period. Privatization is a no-go. A nonstarter.
Handing over the people’s infrastructure to Wall Street would be a massive betrayal of work done over decades by Democratic elected leaders to protect the American people. The Biden-Harris administration made a major unforced error by endorsing a framework with privatization as one of its key facets.
Fortunately, what’s been agreed to thus far is merely a framework. This is being called a deal, but it’s definitely not a done deal. It could easily fall apart.
And this iteration of it probably deserves to fall apart.
Progressive members of Congress need to make it starkly clear to the Biden administration that they will withhold their votes for infrastructure legislation unless privatization is off the table. What is ultimately important and needed is legislation that invests in the country’s future. The process needs to serve the outcome — that outcome — rather than the outcome serving the process.
As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has noted, the group that negotiated this “deal” is unrepresentative of the United States:
The diversity of this “bipartisan coalition” pretty perfectly conveys which communities get centered and which get left behind when leaders prioritize bipartisan dealmaking over inclusive lawmaking (which prioritizes delivering the most impact possible for the most people).
This is why a bipartisan package alone isn’t acceptable. The exclusion & denial of our communities is what D.C. bipartisan deals require. That’s how you get GOP [Republicans] on board: don’t do much/any for the working class & low income, or women, or people of color communities, or unions, etc. We must do more.
That’s why folks can sometimes come across as careless when saying “well isn’t something better than nothing?”
For many communities, their not having a seat at the table is a precondition for bipartisan deals to work in the first place, and that’s not only seen as normal, but valued.
Meanwhile, when representatives of excluded communities object to the exclusion & marginalization required to make many bipartisan deals work, they’re dismissed as “unreasonable.”
So who/what often benefits from this type of bipartisan dealmaking? Corporations & structural racism.
This is not to say that any/all bipartisan deals are bad, but it’s to ask people to actually read what’s inside them instead of assume bipartisan =good.
“Isn’t something better than nothing” assumes that none of the individuals involved agreed to harmful policies. A huge assumption.
When you consider who was at the table, and who wasn’t, it’s easier to understand how privatization became such a big facet of this framework.
Like the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
Wall Street was well represented in these framework negotiations.
The diverse constituencies that make up the American public? Not so much.
The important thing to remember is that any legislation that’s going to reach Joe Biden’s desk will require progressive support. There aren’t enough Republican votes to pass a bipartisan deal that’s unacceptable to progressives.
If President Biden won’t put his foot down and protect treasures like the BPA, then that crucial responsibility must be taken up by members of Congress, like our own Representative Pramila Jayapal (D‑Washington, 7th District).