Column: Could it be? The infrastructure fracas shows Washington is healing

With Republican Senator. Rob Portman (left) and other senators who worked to a traditional infrastructure compromise. (Jacquelyn Mart / Associated Press ).Washington's ongoing infrastructure drama is an excellent example of how dysfunction can become normal and normal politics look dysfunctional.Let's start by setting the context.Major legislation was a part of American history for most of its journey up through the Congress committee system. Over months of negotiations, committee chairs would shepherd the process of negotiating deals, logrolling, and agenda-setting. This regular order has been replaced by party government over the past two decades. The leaders of the House, Senate majority leader and president now drive all matters.This is how the nature of the job has changed for rank-and-file senators. Instead of legislating, the pathway to influence and attention is through social media and cable TV studios. You can whip up the base to exert pressure on leadership.This is the background of the infrastructure brouhaha.It is very popular to spend money on roads, bridges and sewers as well as modern stuff such as electric-car charging stations or 5G networks. A group of 21 senators, including 11 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one independent, reached an agreement to approve a $1.2-trillion bill for infrastructure last week. (Another reason they are willing to work together is to relieve pressure from the push to repeal the filibuster.Progressive Democrats also call $6 trillion in additional spending for social services and projects under the "transformational" Green New Deal "human infrastructure" because of its popularity.It's like a game show where you try to stuff as many things as possible into one shopping bag. As long as the progressives are able to claim that their wish list fits into the infrastructure cart, they believe they can make it happen. It will be impossible for Democrats to claim that a second cart is infrastructure if they only fill it with traditional items.Continue the storyThe moderates infrastructure agreement was praised by President Biden to the skies as exactly the kind of bipartisan compromise that he was elected for. Then, just a few minutes later, he announced that he would not sign the compromise agreement unless Congress also passed human infrastructure. Republicans protested, stating that such linkage was not part of the agreement.A final note of context: Republicans will not vote for legislation relating to human infrastructure. To pass it, Democrats would need to use the complicated reconciliation process, which is not subject the filibuster. However, all 50 senator Democrats would need to vote in favor. Progressives are concerned that Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, or other moderate Dems might not support the $6 trillion wish-list. Progressives are determined to hold traditional infrastructure spending captive to their once-in-a-generation grab for the brass band.The White House cleaned up the mess over the past few days. Biden has now stated emphatically that he will sign bipartisan compromise legislation.All of this conversation has been shaped by a familiar script: a Democratic president struggling with obstructionist Republicans. It's plausible enough because there is plenty of it.The more important dynamic is the one with the Democrats. Moderate Democrats know that traditional infrastructure funding is important for them and their party. But, a massive, unprecedented spending spree on non-traditional items could put them at risk. While Republicans might have been the most vocal critics, it was the protest of moderate Democrats that forced Biden into a retreat.The attention given to Manchin's "conservative" and "stubborn" nature has not covered the fact that he is running interference for other Democrats, who are nervous about campaigning on spending that could be easily compared to Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio Cortez socialism. They are also reluctant about abolishing filibuster. The reason for the fracturing of the past week is that the Republicans don't trust the Republicans to support a progressive agenda and the progressives don't trust the moderates.This adds up: A 50-50 Senate means that moderates, especially moderate Democrats, are the most powerful group in government. You know what? This is the old norm.It is difficult to understand this given the decades of party government, where most meaningful congressional action was largely partisan. From where I sit, however, I find the chaos to be a welcome sign that neither the GOP nor the Dems can do strict party government on certain issues. Perhaps Washington is beginning to heal.@JonahDispatchThis story first appeared in Los Angeles Times.