Dec 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden privately pushes first big deal

Photo illustration of Biden in a construction hat.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump's now infamous "infrastructure week" may finally get a shovel in the ground ... during the Biden administration.

Why it matters: If Majority Leader Mitch McConnell keeps control of the Senate, a bill to finance all sorts of public construction projects may be one of the few big pieces of legislation President-elect Joe Biden can realistically achieve within a divided government, given its broad, bipartisan support.

What we're hearing: The president-elect's transition team has privately started laying the groundwork to strike a bipartisan infrastructure deal during the first year of his term.

  • The team has indicated to business leaders it sees an opening to use it as a driver for more economic and job relief as the U.S. emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: Business and labor leaders — currently fretting over whether Congress can get its act together to pass a coronavirus relief package — are salivating at the potential of a secondary form of stimulus to fuel economic growth.

  • Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells me: "We've certainly had conversations with them. ... They're extremely interested in pursuing an infrastructure package, as is the Chamber and the business community."
  • He added, "Of all the issues that are out there, this one can form one of the widest possible coalitions to help get something through Congress."

Biden announced Wednesday he's tapping former Mayor Pete Buttigieg to run the Department of Transportation.

  • He is a rising star in the Democratic Party, and Biden's team searched for a substantive role for him in the administration.
  • Running point on a major infrastructure deal — also viewed as an opportunity to invest in climate change, 5G technology and underserved communities — checks that box nicely.

Yes, but: Officials in Washington still have PTSD from President Trump's regular — but unfulfilled — talk about an upcoming "infrastructure week." It was promised multiple times during the last four years but derailed for a recurring reason: Who foots the bill?

  • Many Republicans — resuming their posture as deficit hawks now that Trump is on his way out — are loath to agree to another trillion-dollar deal after passing a massive stimulus bill at the outset of the pandemic, as well as being on the cusp of a second one now.
  • Democrats have felt no such reticence, wanting to ensure any spending came in addition to funding for middle-class programs such as education and health care.

Be smart: Bradley argues, "We're never going to be able to tackle the underlying debt and deficit if we don't get growth going faster."

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