The revelation last week of a secret deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin that put a $1.5 trillion topline on President Biden’s social spending deal set off a scramble among Democrats over whether to accept the substantially lower price tag or begin paring down the programs.
Schumer and Manchin (D-W.Va.) reportedly entered into an agreement in July to set a $1.5 trillion limit on the bill and to begin negotiating it no earlier than Oct. 1, 2021.
The news of that deal broke as squabbling between progressives and centrists reached a boiling point last week, threatening to jeopardize Biden’s agenda and forcing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to twice cancel votes on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
She set a Halloween deadline to take up the legislation.
Progressives in the House demanded the Senate vote on the $3.5 trillion spending deal before they would take up the bipartisan bill.
The Senate last month passed the bipartisan infrastructure package by a 69-30 vote.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, bluntly said that level of funding wouldn’t work.
“That’s not going to happen,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union” about the $1.5 trillion number. “That’s too small to get our priorities in. It’s going to be somewhere between $1.5 and $3.5, and I think the White House is working on that right now because, remember, what we want to deliver is childcare, paid leave and climate change, housing.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that House Democrats have leverage over moderates like Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona in the Senate but said the discussion could come down to what programs are in the bill.
“So here’s where I think the problem is. It’s that when we talk about top line numbers, there’s a lot that is hidden in that discussion. And so the reason why this conversation shouldn’t be about numbers, but it should be about what substantive programs are willing to be excluded,” she said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
“But those are the conversations that we need to have, because the thing is that Washington math is notoriously funny and you can make a $3 trillion into $2 trillion, you can make a $3 trillion bill that helps fewer people, etc. And so that’s why we really need to talk about the substance of this,” Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said.
She said progressives are fighting for Biden’s “Build Back Better” program and universal pre-K, free community college, Medicare and Medicaid expansion, as well as reducing carbon emissions.
To reach their objectives, AOC suggested shortening the funding programs to make them not acceptable.
“I think that one of the ideas that out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years,” she said.
Cedric Richmond, a White House adviser, echoed Biden’s comments after huddling with Democrats on Capitol Hill last Friday that it doesn’t matter if it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks, they will get it passed.
“We don’t have a time frame on it. This is just about delivering and making sure that we deliver both bills to the American people because it meets their needs. So, we’re not using an artificial timeline and we’re not concerned with process. We’re concerned about delivery,” Richmond said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He also said the president expects both bills to pass.
“The president wants both bills and he expects to get both bills. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, has said that they’re going to pass both bills and we believe that because we know that both bills are very popular and both meet the needs of the people right now,” he said.
“And so we’re going to continue to work on both, keep our heads down and make sure that we deliver,” Richmond said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was asked by host Chuck Todd on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” whether he felt time was wasted last week as negotiations sputtered even though Schumer knew Manchin’s topline number in July.
”Well, no, that’s not accurate. I mean, there has been serious negotiations going on, literally, for months now. And there is a frustration that it has taken this long. I voted for the infrastructure bill. I think it’s important that we rebuild our roads and our bridges and our water systems,” Sanders said.
”But it is absolutely imperative that we have a strong and comprehensive reconciliation bill which finally addresses the needs of working families. So, you know, our job right now is to rally the American people to continue the negotiations. And I think at the end of the day we’re going to pass both pieces of legislation,” he said.