Jeff Stein and Tyler Pager did a profile of Steve Ricchetti for the Washington Post. If you don’t know who Ricchetti is, that’s partly by his own design–he avoids the media spotlight. People in the nation’s capital know who is though, because he’s been a major mover and shaker there for years. He’s kind of an alter-ego of former White House counselor and chief of staff John Podesta. Like John, Steve has a brother who makes a killing as a lobbyist.
In 2000, Tony Podesta — another lobbyist whose brother, John, went in and out of politics — boasted to the New York Times about their and the Ricchettis’ influence: “The Medicis controlled everything. … We have it split into two families.”
Tony Podesta served as Obama’s counselor and Hillary’s campaign chairman. Ricchetti has served both of those roles for Joe Biden. There’s a bit of controversy swirling around him because three of his children have landed paying jobs in the Biden administration, but hardly anyone seems to hold any ill-will for Ricchetti. He has a gift for making people like him.
The reason the Post went live with their Ricchetti profile now is that he’s been intricately involved in the bipartisan infrastructure framework that the White House announced on Thursday.
Ricchetti was among the White House officials on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night securing the “framework” of an infrastructure deal with Senate Democrats and Republicans. Later in the evening, Ricchetti was among White House officials briefing top Democratic leaders about the next steps.
It’s debatable whether this is an accomplishment we should applaud. It’s basically an agreement between five Democratic senators, five Republican senators and the White House to spend a little under $700 billion new dollars, mostly on traditional infrastructure projects. The Biden administration says it’s a $1.2 trillion dollar bill, but that’s misleading because almost half the money was already allocated. We might not like how they pay for this bill either– particularly the public-private partnerships it envisions.
Predictably, the National Review is opposed to the deal, but this time they have a point. The whole thing is a charade. In fact, the possible success of this charade might be the bill’s greatest selling point.
Imagine if, in 2017, Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell announced a bipartisan deal with Democrats on some tax-reform provisions they agreed with, then passed the rest of the Republican tax bill anyway and called it bipartisan tax reform. It would be viewed as absurd, and rightly so. Such is the case this time around.
Republicans should reject this patently ridiculous and inaptly named “compromise.”
The comparison to Trump’s tax cut bill is apt. Trump enacted those cuts through the budget reconciliation process because he had no Democratic votes and needed to pass them with a simple majority to overcome a filibuster. The exact same thing is supposed to happen here for the bulk of Biden’s infrastructure plan. The “bipartisan infrastructure framework” announced this week is merely a subset of the total package that includes some provisions that Republicans agree with.
It’s not entirely clear why the Republicans would go along with this sham, and there’s a good possibility that they won’t. After all, only five Republican senators are a party to the deal, and the Biden administration needs ten Republicans to overcome a filibuster.
And this sham is not well-hidden. As the editors at the National Review say:
Democrats have made their plans very clear. They want to move the bipartisan plan through the Senate on a parallel track with a reconciliation bill stuffed with liberal wish-list items that will be rammed through on a pure party-line basis.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said both bills would be moved through the Senate next month, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would not even consider acting on the bipartisan bill unless the far-left one also passes the Senate.
President Biden affirmed this, saying that if only one of the two bills land on his desk, he will not sign it.
Despite the transparent fraud of this whole arrangement, it still could work. The Republicans probably don’t want to stop all of Biden’s proposed infrastructure spending, and this gives some members a way to say yes. It’s also an effective way to blunt momentum for killing off the legislative filibuster. After all, if the Senate can still come together to craft big bipartisan deals, then maybe the place can still function, right?
From the Biden administration’s point of view, the important thing is that they get the money they need to push their priorities forward, and if they have to put on a kabuki play to get it done, then kudos to them for finding a solution.
To see what I mean, consider that Ryan Grim of The Intercept, a habitual critic of the Democrats and neoliberalism, is applauding this performance very loudly and is almost hyperbolic in how he describes its significance.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT, the one thing political observers and participants around the globe seem to agree on is that the neoliberal world order that arose out of World War II, and became hegemonic after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is in deep crisis — and has been since the financial crisis of 2008.
What type of world order will emerge from this crisis is hotly disputed, a question that hasn’t been so open since the 1930s. How exactly the U.S. emerges from this crisis, and in what state, will be significantly determined by the legislative jockeying of the next few months…
…Yet the Biden administration agenda that is still very much alive carries arguably far more potential consequence for a fundamental reorienting of the American economy. If the neoliberal order is collapsing, the next few months offer Democrats a perhaps-final chance to build something new in its place.
He wouldn’t be saying this about the bipartisan infrastructure framework alone, built as it is on neoliberal public-private partnerships. Grim is looking at the “$2.3 trillion package dubbed the American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan” that will be included in the budget reconciliation bill.
All fifty Democratic senators have committed to this two-track plan, but centrist members like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona may insist that the latter bill be trimmed down, perhaps substantially.
So, there’s really two outstanding questions. First, will there be ten Republican senators who support the framework bill announced this week? The second question is what will happen if there is not.
In that case, the Democrats could go it alone by putting it all through the budget reconciliation process, but this is something Manchin in particular has said he would not support. Of course, he said that while he was working on a bipartisan deal. If that deal collapses, he may change his mind.
He may change his mind about the legislative filibuster entirely in that case. Preventing that from happening is one reason the Republicans may consent to getting rolled.
As one of the directors of this play, Ricchetti deserves more attention, and maybe acclaim. It’s a dirty business, but negotiating with Republicans is always dirty.