President Joe Biden and congressional Democratic leaders scrambled Wednesday to try to resolve an intraparty standoff that threatens to delay or derail a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a larger package focused on expanding access to health care, bolstering the social safety net and combating climate change.
Biden canceled a planned trip to Chicago Wednesday so he could stay in the capital and continue efforts to broker a compromise between progressives and centrists divided over the two tentpole pieces of legislation.
Biden reportedly met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the White House Wednesday afternoon following a series of meetings Tuesday with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who oppose both the size of the social spending package and key provisions in it. Progressives, meanwhile, are still vowing they’ll withhold their support for the infrastructure bill, fearing that if it passes, centrists will scuttle any chance of passing the second package.
Progressives apparently have good reason to be concerned about that larger bill, which would require the backing of all 50 Senate Democrats in order to pass using the special budget reconciliation process the party wants to use to bypass a Republican filibuster.
Despite repeated pressure from Democratic lawmakers, Manchin and Sinema reportedly have yet to specify what they would support in a reconciliation bill. “During a private meeting with the president, Sinema made clear she’s still not on board with the party’s $3.5 trillion social spending plan and is hesitant to engage on some specifics until the bipartisan infrastructure package passes the House,” Politico reports, citing a person who spoke with her.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki would not tell reporters Wednesday whether the two senators have provided a topline number that they would accept for the price tag of the budget reconciliation package. Manchin has previously indicated he could back $1.5 trillion. Sinema remains more of an enigma, though she continues to engage in talks with the White House. Psaki said Wednesday that the White House believes the Arizona senator does support passing a reconciliation package this year.
For the moment, that all leaves Democrats going in circles, as Politico summed up: “To pass the House, progressives are demanding that the much larger reconciliation bill must be finished. To finish the reconciliation bill, Biden needs to cut a deal with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema … . To get a deal with Sinema, she has previously said, the bipartisan infrastructure bill must pass the House on Thursday.”
Pelosi said Wednesday that the legislative text of the reconciliation package must be done before the House takes up the infrastructure bill. “That won't happen,” Manchin quickly responded.
Manchin says spending trillions more is ‘fiscal insanity’: The West Virginia senator issued a statement Wednesday evening reiterating many of his objections to the budget reconciliation package. “I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March,” he said, without including a number that he could support. “What I have made clear to the President and Democratic leaders is that spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity.”
Manchin also said he was concerned that spending trillions more would spur inflation that could weaken the recovery from the pandemic.
“While I am hopeful that common ground can be found that would result in another historic investment in our nation, I cannot – and will not – support trillions in spending or an all or nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality our nation faces,” Machine added. “There is a better way and I believe we can find it if we are willing to continue to negotiate in good faith.”
The bottom line: Biden and Pelosi appear to have a couple of options, neither of which is good. They could press ahead with Thursday’s planned infrastructure vote, daring progressives to follow through on their threat and tank the bill, as is likely to happen. Or they could delay the vote and anger moderates, potentially complicating negotiations even further. “If the vote were to fail tomorrow or be delayed, there would be a significant breach in trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda,” said centrist Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).
Pelosi has made clear she won’t bring a bill to a vote without knowing it will pass, meaning delay — and more Democratic infighting — is the likeliest outcome. But check back tomorrow!