Pelosi pointed out Tuesday that the Democrats are taking a twofold approach: both reducing the number of priorities in their social spending package and cutting the length of funding for certain programs. Democratic leaders hope the two-pronged plan can dramatically reduce the package from its initial price of $ 3.5 trillion to a spending target that Senate moderates are happy to support.
But the top progressives have not hidden their annoyance, both at the pace of the talks and the little they have heard from two key negotiators – Sens. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz. ).
“We are ready to negotiate, we are ready to compromise, but we will not negotiate with ourselves,” said Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) In a press briefing on Tuesday.
Democrats are increasingly concerned about the huge roadblocks to completing the package in the coming weeks, and pressure is mounting to meet a key Biden priority given his lagging approval ratings. Privately, some Democrats fear the sprawling bill could spill over into December of Hell if the party also has to pass a trillion-dollar government spending bill and avoid a debt crisis.
Pelosi has announced that it will pass Biden’s Infrastructure and Domestic Policy Act by October 31 – when a temporary permit for highway and transit programs expires. But some liberal lawmakers are already suggesting that Congress could set that deadline again.
“We all want to work as quickly as possible. And of course the short-term extension of the surface transport can always be extended if we have to, ”said Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Chair of the Progressive Caucus of Congress.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday expressed confidence that Democrats could finalize both priorities by the end of October, but that it would require bipartisan collaboration.
“[It’s] everyone, not just one person. It takes a lot of responsibility to achieve this, “said Hoyer.
House Democrats left Washington almost two weeks ago – after a tense week of negotiations that ultimately failed without agreement – with a directive from Biden to curtail their ambitions for the $ 3.5 trillion plan. Biden privately told Democrats that the bill should likely be in the $ 2 trillion range.
The move towards a smaller bill has sparked a soul-searching for the party as Democrats debate exactly what Biden’s priorities to include – and for how long.
Progressives have vocalized in favor of getting as large a package as possible, even if doing so requires stopping funding for these programs early and risking a future Congress cutting them off.
But many others, including House Chairs and members of the leadership, have argued that Democrats should focus on just a handful of programs that they can fund for years and cement Biden’s legacy.
Pelosi suggested Tuesday that the party’s approach would be a combination of the two, which is another internal political debate that Democrats will need to settle before the end of the month in order to pass Biden’s package.
“When there are fewer dollars to spend, decisions have to be made,” Pelosi told reporters.
The House of Representatives returned briefly on Tuesday to clarify a short-term debt limit setting that will give Congress some air on the debt cliff at least until early December. The Senate first passed the bill last week after a scramble for Republican votes.
The debt ceiling crisis preoccupied the Senate last week, and the only real talk of reconciliation came when Sanders and Manchin held dueling press conferences attacking each other’s positions on the Democrats’ social spending plan.
And while the vote on the debt ceiling meant that House members were thrown back together during the Chamber’s break week in October, it also made it clear how dispersed negotiations on the Democratic Social Infrastructure Act remain.
Pelosi sparked a wave of confusion early Tuesday when she pointed out that Democrats would likely have to make tough decisions not only about which priorities to remove completely from their social spending bill, but also consider how many years some programs would fund to shorten them to reduce the total cost.
In the past week, Pelosi had privately emphasized the plan to delete some programs completely from the package. saying “The issue among members is to do fewer things better.” But several White House officials have offered the competing approach of ending programs earlier, including in talks with progressives in the Capitol.
And Pelosi herself appeared to undermine her original message during Tuesday’s press conference when she told reporters that the Democrats were “cutting the years” on some programs.
Progressive leaders, who continue to insist on a bill containing a range of family, health and climate regulations – even if they go under in years to come – picked up on Pelosi’s latter remarks during her press briefing on Tuesday.
“We would reduce the number of years because the universality of the services and the immediacy of the services are absolutely crucial. And that’s honestly more important to us than having it for the whole 10 years, ”said Jayapal. “We were pleased that the spokeswoman said something similar in her press conference today.”
Some Democrats said privately they hoped negotiations with Democratic leaders, Liberals, Manchin and Sinema could seriously resume since Pelosi was back from a trip abroad. However, many were still skeptical that key party members could reach an agreement by the desired October 31 deadline.
Pelosi focuses its negotiations on three main areas: climate change; Family issues including child care and paid family leave; and health care – especially the Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives want to bolster Obamacare and expand Medicaid to red states that have refused to expand the program.
But the party’s two factions are still far apart in some key areas, even within these three groups.
Manchin has spoken out against certain climate regulations, while Sinema has rejected progressive efforts to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Sanders, meanwhile, continues to campaign against Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives in health care, saying his urge to expand Medicare to include vision, hearing and dental care is a must.
But privately, Democratic negotiators say there is no way to get both the Sanders Medicare push – of which dental expansion, in particular, is very costly – and efforts to support Obamacare and Medicaid, particularly in a bill that is dramatic will be lower.
“The truth is, those predictions should have been included in the original Medicare bill, they weren’t,” Sanders said. “This is not negotiable for me.”