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Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy thinks the bipartisan infrastructure plan he and his colleagues came up with are all the infrastructure we need because the bill will pay for roads, and women need roads to shop.
Cassidy made the remarks during an appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday, amid days of confusion over whether the narrow bipartisan infrastructure bill will be pursued alone or as part of a “two-track” strategy along with a bigger, $6 trillion plan which would—among other things—provide significant investments in human infrastructure like childcare and education.
But according to Cassidy—or his wife, in his telling—women need roads more than they need childcare, so they can shop and pick the kids up from school.
“My wife says that roads and bridges are a woman's problem, if you will. Because oftentimes, it is the woman, aside from commuting to work, who's also taking children to school. They're doing the shopping,” Cassidy told Chuck Todd. “And the more time she spends on that road, the less time she spends doing things of higher value.”
The pandemic has fully exposed the lack of support for working parents, disproportionately women; the rate of American women in the workforce is at its lowest level since 1986, the New York Times reported last month. The Center for American Progress estimated last October that women leaving the workforce to take on more childcare responsibilities during the pandemic could cost as much as $65 billion in lost wages and economic activity annually.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speaking to “Meet the Press” after Cassidy, took on his comment directly.
“I believe that in the House and House Democrats are very committed to making sure that, in Senator Cassidy's words, that infrastructure is very centered on women, and in addition to a bridge, you need a babysitter,” she said. “And it's very important that we pass a reconciliation bill and a families plan that expands childcare, that lowers the cost of Medicare, that supports families in the economy.”
Cassidy appeared with President Joe Biden and a group of Republicans and centrist Democrats at the White House last week to announce the deal on the roads and bridges bill. But progressive Democrats such as Ocasio-Cortez have pushed back, arguing the bill isn’t enough and leaves out efforts to combat climate change and build what Biden and others have dubbed “human infrastructure,” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wouldn’t pass the first bill without a guarantee to pass the second, bigger one.
Initially, Biden also said he would veto the bill Cassidy supports if there’s no guarantee of ensuring Democratic support for the second bill, but on Saturday the White House walked those comments back in a statement.
“I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do,” Biden said. “I intend to pursue the passage of that plan, which Democrats and Republicans agreed to on Thursday, with vigor. It would be good for the economy, good for our country, good for our people. I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”
At the same time, Biden said he would continue to pursue passing the second, bigger bill through reconciliation, a budget process that can only be used a few times in a year.
The first bill would need at least 10 Republican votes along with the support of all Senate Democrats in order to defeat an almost certain filibuster attempt. Democrats wary of getting rid of the filibuster to pass Biden’s agenda, such as Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, have pointed to the agreement as a case for why the filibuster still works.
But on Monday, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his opposition to Republicans supporting the first bill without a guarantee that congressional Democrats won’t pursue the second through the budget reconciliation process, which would mean the bill needs only 50 Democratic votes—plus the tiebreaker of Vice President Kamala Harris—in order to pass.
On Sunday, Sen. Joe Manchin—one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and a member of the bipartisan group—said he would work with other Democrats on a reconciliation bill, but he dismissed the proposed $6 trillion price tag.
“If [progressives] think in reconciliation I’m going to throw caution to the wind and go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion, when we can only afford $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or maybe $2 trillion and what we can pay for, then I can’t be there,” Manchin told “This Week” on Sunday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate budget committee and a leading proponent of a larger infrastructure package, tweeted Sunday that he would continue to oppose the bipartisan bill without a guarantee on the second. “No reconciliation bill, no deal,” Sanders tweeted. “We need transformative change NOW.”