Infrastructure Talks Recall Heated Debate Over Obama Healthcare

“This is 2009 and health care all over again,” said Adam Jentleson, who was an aide to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader that year.

But efforts to find a bipartisan path forward continue to flounder.

“Partisan politics are worse now than back in the days of the A.C.A.,” Mr. Baucus said this week, “and they were plenty partisan then.”

The template for today’s infrastructure stalemate was set in 2009. Then as now, a small group of senators, Democratic and Republican, were empowered to seek a deal.

“It was going to be done in a bipartisan way, with a goal of doing like you do other social programs in the United States, like civil rights and Medicare and Medicaid — they all pass with wide bipartisan majorities,” Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who was then the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a 2014 interview.

Then as now, if no compromise could be reached, Democrats needed every single senator in their party to push through a bill. That meant holding all 60 together in 2009 to beat a Republican filibuster; today, Democrats need all 50 of their members to use a budget maneuver called reconciliation to steer clear of a filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority.

“The reality was there were moderate Democrats who were very uneasy about doing health care, period, and certainly about doing it in a partisan way,” Mr. Selib said this week. “The only way to go 60-for-60 was to show Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh that we were going to do everything to make it bipartisan, that we were not going to leave anything on the field.”

Mr. Nelson, a conservative Nebraskan, and Ms. Lincoln, an embattled Arkansan, are long gone, but today, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona need the same assuaging.

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