Pelosi indicated on Tuesday that Democrats are looking for a double-barrelled approach: both cutting the number of priorities in their social spending package and cutting the length of certain programs that would be funded. Democratic leaders hope the bipartisan plan can dramatically lower the package from its original $3.5 trillion price tag to a spending target that Senate moderates comfortably support.
But progressive executives don’t hide their annoyance, both at the pace of talks and at the little they’ve 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 are not going to negotiate with ourselves,” Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Democrats are increasingly concerned about the huge hurdles to completing the package in the coming weeks, with pressure mounting to deliver a key Biden priority amid his lagging approval ratings. Privately, some Democrats fear the sprawling bill could spill over into the December of hell, when the party must also approve a trillion-dollar government bill to avoid a debt crisis.
Pelosi has said she aims to approve Biden’s infrastructure and domestic policies by Oct. 31 — when a temporary authorization for highway and transit programs expires. But some liberal lawmakers are already suggesting Congress could meet that deadline again.
“We all want to work as quickly as possible. And, of course, the short-term extension of surface transport can always be extended if needed,” said Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer expressed confidence on Tuesday that Democrats could finalize both priorities by the end of October, but that party-wide collaboration would be needed.
“[It’s] everyone, not just one person. It takes a lot of responsibility to make this happen,” said Hoyer.
House Democrats left Washington nearly two weeks ago — after a tense week of negotiations that ultimately failed without a deal — with a bid from Biden to narrow their ambitions for the $3.5 trillion plan. Biden personally told Democrats that the bill should probably be in the $2 trillion range.
The path to a smaller bill has sparked party scrutiny as Democrats debate exactly which Biden priorities should be included — and for how long.
Progressives have spoken out about adopting the most comprehensive package possible, even if it requires that funding for those programs be cut earlier and risks a future Congress cutting them off.
But many others, including Speakers of the House and members of the leadership, have argued that Democrats should focus on just a handful of programs, which they can fund for years and strengthen Biden’s legacy.
Pelosi suggested Tuesday that the party’s approach would be a combination of the two, representing yet another internal policy debate Democrats must settle before the end of the month to approve Biden’s package.
“When there are fewer dollars to spend, choices have to be made,” Pelosi told reporters.
The House briefly returned on Tuesday to release a short-term debt cap solution that will give Congress some breathing room on the debt cliff at least until early December. The Senate first approved the bill last week after a battle to gather Republican votes.
The debt-ceiling crisis consumed the Senate last week, and the only real talk of reconciliation came when Sanders and Manchin held dueling press conferences attacking each other’s stances 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 October recess week, it also highlighted how fragmented the Democrats’ social infrastructure bill negotiations still are.
Pelosi caused a wave of confusion early Tuesday when she indicated that Democrats would likely not only have to make hard choices about which priorities to cut completely from their social spending bills, but would also look at limiting the number of years some programs are funded. to economize. down to total costs.
Pelosi had personally emphasized in talks over the past week the plan to drop some programs completely from the package, proverb “the theme among the members is to do less things better.” But several White House officials have previously offered the competitive approach to ending programs, including in talks with progressives at the Capitol.
And Pelosi herself appeared to undermine her initial message at Tuesday’s press conference, telling reporters that the Democrats would “cut back over the years” for some programs.
Progressive leaders, who continue to push for a bill that encompasses a range of family, health and climate benefits — even if they disappear in the coming years — seized on Pelosi’s latest remarks at their news conference Tuesday.
“We would reduce the number of years because the universality of benefits and the immediacy of benefits are absolutely crucial. And that’s honestly more important to us than having it for the whole 10 years,” Jayapal said. “We were happy to see the speaker say something similar in her press conference today.”
Some Democrats said privately that they hoped that since Pelosi returned from an overseas trip, negotiations with Democratic leaders, Liberals, Manchin and Sinema could resume in earnest. But many were still skeptical that key party members could reach a deal by the desired October 31 deadline.
Pelosi focuses its negotiations on three main areas: climate change; family issues, including childcare and paid family leave; and health care — Democratic House leaders in particular want to bolster Obamacare and expand Medicaid to red states that have declined to expand the program.
But the party’s two factions still remain far apart in some key areas, even within those three categories.
Manchin has spoken out against certain climate regulations, while Sinema has rejected progressives in efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Sanders, meanwhile, continues to criticize House Democratic leaders on health care, saying his drive to expand Medicare to include vision, hearing and dental benefits is a must.
But privately, Democratic negotiators say there’s no way to get both Sanders’ Medicare push — whose dental expansion, in particular, is very costly — along with efforts to support Obamacare and Medicaid, especially in a bill set to be dramatically lower. in costs.
“The truth is, these predictions should have been included in the original Medicare bill, but they weren’t,” Sanders said. “This is not negotiable for me.”