On the eve of his 100th day in office, Democrat President Joe Biden unveiled a “Once in a generation” investment plan that involved spending $4trn on jobs, infrastructure, education, and social care.
The once-in-a-generation investment consists of two parts: the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.
Each requires approximately $2trn in funding to be raised mainly by increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest 1% of American citizens.
Republicans have opposed both the extent of the plan and the increase in taxes and announced their own alternative infrastructure plan.
That is budgeted at $568bn and would not be paid for by higher taxes.
Instead, the money would come from user fees on electric vehicles and other items, alongside unspent federal funds and contributions from state and local government.
Biden has repeatedly called for unity and bipartisan cooperation.
The GOP has described their counterproposal as “a good faith effort towards bipartisan negotiations.” Some moderate democrats look likely to support it.
But more progressive democrats feel that even Biden’s ambitious original plan doesn’t go far enough. To achieve his aims, Biden needs the support of every democrat faction.
So far, the slim Democrat majority in both the senate and congress has allowed Biden to pass some bills without Republican support.
However, this time, Biden may need to reach a compromise that satisfies moderate representatives in both houses.
Divisions between republicans and democrats have been increasing for decades and arguably reached breaking point under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Biden promised to unify America and has previously been known to favor bipartisan solutions.
However, the radical nature of the investment plan looks set to strengthen differences between the parties rather than heal them.
The bipartisan organization No Labels has long been working to bring together the two parties to tackle pressing issues like jobs, infrastructure, and climate change.
A significant achievement was the creation of the Problem Solvers Caucus in 2017, which included representatives from all sides of the house.
The Republicans and the Democrats agree that America’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair, replacement, and renovation.
In theory, this is an issue that would benefit from a bipartisan approach.
Both Obama and Trump promised to rebuild infrastructure, but both failed to find consensus on funding and the extent of the plan.
Disagreements on what constitutes infrastructure, how much to spend, and how to find the money do not even follow clear party lines.
There are differences of opinion between both parties on these matters.
Historically, the Republicans have consistently opposed tax increases and increased government spending on what they describe as wasteful projects, feeling that too much government interference stifles the free market and reduces competitiveness.
The democrats broadly support government spending and higher taxes on both the wealthy and large corporations but are divided on the overall extent of such measures.
Fractured Party Lines
These age-old divisions are at the heart of the conflict over Biden’s latest plan.
Ironically, Biden has done much to unite the GOP in the immediate post-Trump era, as the fractured Republican party has been able to set its differences aside in order to oppose the president’s every proposal.
Biden meanwhile struggles to keep left-leaning progressives and centrists within his party on the same page.
The coronavirus crisis arguably necessitated radical packages like his earlier $1.9trn economic relief bill, but there were still disputes over exactly how the money should be allocated.
Invoking the twin specters of climate change and China’s economic threat, Biden has attempted to justify a bill that is as ambitious as Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Polls suggest that most Americans support both an infrastructure overhaul and higher taxes on the very wealthy, even if their representatives don’t.
It’s possible, however, that the President may still have to accept the republican counterproposal to at least some degree in order to move forward.
A Two-track Solution
One possible outcome is a two-track approach to the infrastructure issue, with a scaled-down bipartisan bill passing through congress while more radical measures are initiated without republican support.
The lower-cost republican infrastructure bill notably fails to address climate change and doesn’t include the wide-ranging social care element of Biden’s proposals. The Democrats are unlikely to let these go without a fight.
The American Families Bill is even more controversial for republicans, as it includes free or subsidized education measures and healthcare.
The opposition party is unlikely to propose an alternative vision to what they see as unnecessary, wasteful spending – socialism by the back door.
It is to be hoped that the parties can set aside their differences to bring in solutions that are supported by the vast majority of American voters.
But to do this, some long-held ideological principles may need to be set aside.
We are living in unprecedented times, and perhaps party political attitudes need to shift to reflect this. The alternative is a stalemate that benefits no one.