Democrats start bargaining in bid to save party-line megabill

“It is time for [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer to get them and try to get a number, ”said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Referring to Sinema and Manchin. “Chuck has to do this. He has to bring it in … Nobody but him can do it, because everything we agree on doesn’t matter. “

While a deal remains in the air, Democratic leaders now publicly acknowledge that revenue for the social spending plan will fall below $ 3.5 trillion and instead will be closer to $ 1.9-2.3 trillion , less than half of the $ 6 trillion that was initially progressive sought. It is a sign that reality is dawning on Democratic majorities as they feel an increased urgency to get the main pillars of Biden’s agenda off the ground before 2022, when Washington traditionally begins to focus on the midterm elections. The decision will also determine how much Democrats will have to raise taxes.

Senate progressives are divided over whether they are ready to accept a smaller package. Although Biden announced his proposed range to the Democrats last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Reiterated that $ 3.5 trillion was already a compromise, while Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Stated that the Senate Already approved a $ 3.5 trillion budget plan in August.

“Right now, I’m still assuming we should be negotiating what we voted on, $ 3.5 trillion,” Warren said.

Others admitted, however, that they need to reset their expectations. While some said they were ready to accept total costs under $ 3.5 trillion, they stressed that they were more into politics – although the number of new policies is directly affected by the number of topline issues.

“Everyone has to give, including progressives,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “The premise that we have to make compromises goes without saying, but maybe it was worth it in the Oval Office.”

Schumer and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi will meet with White House officials on Monday evening. Hours earlier, Biden raised the price tag issue with a group of a dozen or so House progressives, reiterating in a virtual meeting that the total bill would likely have to be between $ 1.9 trillion and $ 2.3 trillion to support the centrists of the Senate to win. Manchin proposed $ 1.5 trillion and told reporters Monday that the Democrats “understand where I am and I made it very clear”.

Biden’s mantra in the call was that given the limitations of their flimsy majorities in both chambers familiar with the discussions, the Democrats would have to fund the necessary programs. He suggested several ways to reduce the cost of guidelines, such as reducing the number of years certain programs run or using “needs tests” with programs like the free community college.

While no progressives pushed back the need to cut the bill’s cost in session, liberals privately say a means test or income-based limits would be difficult to accept. But in the end, they may have to come to terms with the demands of Manchin and Sinema as key voices in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

Sinema released a statement on Saturday gutting the Democratic leadership for delaying the vote on the physical infrastructure package and making other promises to rival factions in the Democratic Party. She also announced that she privately shared more details with Schumer and Biden about her demands for the bigger expense bill, though most of her colleagues don’t know exactly where she stands.

While Schumer has been constantly engaging with moderates over the past few months, it’s not clear when he’ll next meet up with Sinema and Manchin – or how much Biden will be involved.

Schumer and Pelosi aim to finalize both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the social spending package by the end of the month, an ambitious timeline. Whether they can meet it depends heavily on how quickly an agreement can be reached between the factions of the party.

The House of Representatives will not meet for up to two weeks, with plans to return if party leaders reach an agreement to either pass the comprehensive spending plan or address the looming debt crisis. But Pelosi and other senior Democrats have continued behind the scenes private discussions, soliciting members’ indispensable priorities while narrowing the scope of the bill.

The White House has also scheduled calls with several groups of House members, including one Tuesday morning with swing district Democrats, the most vulnerable members of the caucus, according to several people familiar with the plans.

Sinema and Manchin met with Biden along with White House staff last week as the government tried to reach an agreement on a framework for the broader spending accounting ahead of a scheduled vote on the bipartisan physical infrastructure package. But it soon became clear that there would be no deal, and Pelosi delayed the vote she had originally promised to hold until September 27th.

However, Democratic Senators stressed that many of the deadlines are artificial and self-imposed. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Predicted that packing the entire package would be “very difficult” by October 31st. And Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) put it this way: “It’s so huge, it’s so transformative that it’s ready when it’s done.” It took the Senate weeks to write and finalize a bipartisan infrastructure package which is far smaller than the law of reconciliation.

But before they can write anything on this larger package, Democrats need at least a framework that everyone can agree to. And that is currently the main focus of the party.

“I’ve spoken to some progressive people in our caucus and depending on how the money is being spent, they’d be fine. You wouldn’t love it, but with a figure of $ 2 trillion, $ 2.5 trillion, you’d be fine. Something in there, ”said Tester. “There’s a getable number.”

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report

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