“I could imagine falling below $ 3.5 trillion, but we’ll see how far $ 1.5 trillion can go,” said Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. “He’s confirmed he’s ready, which is pretty sad if you ask me.”
Manchin delivered another dose of reality to his Democratic counterparts Thursday after POLITICO received an internal memo in July he shared with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer setting out his calls for the Democrats’ social spending package. The party took advantage of the previously scheduled caucus lunch to get on the same page.
The Democrats looked tense as they entered the private meeting, but the atmosphere in the room was “strangely cold,” as one participant put it. Manchin did not even attend lunch. Much of the conversation, however, has centered on the Democrats’ path both with regard to their social spending plan and the upcoming battle with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.
“There is a sense of optimism about ‘we’ll make it’, but the point of frustration and lack of clarity is, how soon,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “I encouraged everyone: ‘The time is’ now for a deal.'”
Discussions come as the domestic political agenda of President Joe Biden wavers, with the fate of the bipartisan physical infrastructure package in the House of Representatives unclear and moderates like Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) Still negotiating with the White House over the Social policy stand spending plan.
Sinema made a statement shortly after Manchin’s memo was released, revealing that she had given Biden and Schumer numbers and details in August. She reiterated that $ 3.5 trillion was too much to fund.
That still leaves Democrats in a bind, wondering whether to start and try to negotiate the Manchin and Sinema proposals, or if they should fight to keep their current proposal to expand childcare, education, health care and climate protection .
When asked about a topline of $ 1.5 trillion, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Replied, “I need to know two things. I need to know the number and I also need to know what’s in it. So until you both know you cannot answer. ”
While Democratic leaders presented an overly optimistic timetable for the physical infrastructure law and welfare spending package, Cardin and other Democrats still said they would have liked to see more progress at this point.
“I wish we had made further progress, but it will be difficult to make significant policy changes,” added Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “We just keep going.”
While there is no clear path forward, Democrats publicly insist that they will meet Biden’s agenda, even if progressives privately oppose Manchin’s latest demands. As one Democratic adviser noted of the Senate Democratic faction’s frustrations with Manchin, “You don’t talk. But they smoke. “
“Mr. Manchin has his opinion on this matter, I have a different opinion: that is that $ 3.5 trillion is actually a conservative figure given the climate crisis we are facing,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I- Vt.). “I very much hope that the day will come sooner or later when we will both pass the non-partisan infrastructure law, which is very, very important. And pass a strong reconciliation law.”
Schumer has long insisted on a “two-pronged” strategy in which the Democrats would not pass the bipartisan physical infrastructure package without the Social Expenditure Act. And while Schumer was signing Manchin’s proposal, he wrote in handwriting: “I will try to dissuade Joe from many of them.”
However, the senators on Thursday refrained from criticizing Schumer, admitting the differing views within the 50-member faction and the reality that he cannot lose a single vote on the social spending plan.
Schumer “stepped out of this discussion with Senator Manchin in the hope that he could continue to convince him to do more,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “Of course, I’d rather have this discussion a few months ago. Joe wasn’t ready to have this discussion two months ago, that doesn’t stop us from doing something big. “
But while a Democratic senator called Manchin’s proposal an “opening offer,” the West Virgin is showing no sign that he is ready to change course. During a press conference on Thursday, he suggested that if Democrats wanted to pass laws costing more than $ 1.5 trillion, more Liberals should be elected.
Progressives, on the other hand, widely view the Social Expenditure Plan as their greatest opportunity to implement their priorities in this Congress and possibly for Biden’s entire term. But even if they promise to deliver on the topline despite internal hurdles and resistance, nobody expects a glide path to success.
“It’s hard,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “There are a lot of pieces there. Much is at stake. And what is difficult is difficult. ”