Sinema has issues with both the price tag and some of the tax hikes designed to pay for it. After returning from his White House meeting, Manchin said he has not given Biden a top number and “made no commitments from my point of view”.
Sinema and Manchin’s approach to the negotiations has frozen Biden’s job and family plan and could potentially lead to a high-profile failure of a bipartisan infrastructure bill on the House floor as progressives threaten rebellion. But without more details from the moderate duo, any hope of a bicameral deal on Biden’s agenda is a dream in the air.
Manchin and Sinema met with Biden separately on Tuesday, the second time in less than a week that they visited the White House to voice their concerns and negotiate with the president about reducing Democrats’ plans to $3, 5 trillion to spend. Sinema also returned to the White House twice to discuss details with staff, while Manchin spent more than an hour hanging out with Biden.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the meeting with Sinema as “constructive” and said she and Biden “agreed that we are at a pivotal moment.” [and] must keep working to complete the path forward.”
Even as the House begins a vote on the senators’ bipartisan physical infrastructure bill before this week, Manchin and Sinema have yet to publicly state how far they are willing to go in Democrats’ party legislation on climate change, childcare and numerous other party priorities. .
The back and forth between Biden and the two senators has left Democrats concerned about the extended timetable for the negotiations. And many are in the dark about which spending figure any of them would support, let alone their policy objections.
“What I know is that the longer these debates hang out there, the easier it is for the opposition to mislabel and distort what we’re trying to do,” said Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “If we come to an agreement, we should do it sooner rather than later so we can go out there and explain it to people.”
Privately, patience is waning in the Democratic Senate caucus.
“I’m afraid my colleagues are going to shoot themselves in the foot,” said a Senate Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We need to find a solid track and move on.”
For months, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) have been pushing for a “two-track strategy,” meaning Democrats would not approve the bipartisan infrastructure package without the party’s social spending bill. But by voting Thursday on the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill, Pelosi is effectively decoupling the two, causing consternation among progressives who don’t want to lose leverage over the social spending plan.
“The agreement from the start was that all the pieces would move together… and that one piece would not be broken down and moved before the other,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Both Leader Schumer and Chairman Pelosi and Democrats in the House and Senate all said that’s the deal. I want to make sure we keep that agreement. I don’t want that deal to be broken.”
Manchin and Sinema have consistently stated that they do not support the $3.5 trillion package. At last week’s meeting, Biden urged Manchin to get back to him with a song he could support. But Manchin has indicated that he is in no rush to make a decision.
“We have had good, fair negotiations. There were no commitments at all, no commitments from my point of view, just good negotiations about the country’s needs,” Manchin said. As for the amount of spending on the topline, he said, “We haven’t talked about it, no. Just talking about necessity. I look at the needs of the country.”
Sinema’s office declined to comment on this story.
Meanwhile, the Democrats face a long to-do list with little time.
“We are reaching a point where we need to bring this to a close. I think that’s clear,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We have four major challenges at the same time: financing the government, tackling the debt ceiling, a bipartisan infrastructure law and reconciliation. That’s a big agenda. I think a breakthrough on one of those will help.”
Democratic leaders are beginning to recognize that any social spending package passed by the House and Senate will have to undergo a significant cut from the $3.5 trillion blueprint that both houses of Congress approved in August. But that hasn’t stopped some progressives from expressing their frustration over Thursday’s vote on the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill.
Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) even called for progressives to vote down the legislation if White House and Senate moderates fail to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, Murphy added that he might have approached the bipartisan infrastructure bill differently had he known it would be decoupled from the social spending plan.
“Obviously the rules are changing, sometimes that’s necessary given the changing reality. But it can be quite frustrating,” he said.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House Democrats are paying unusual attention to Manchin and Sinema and are largely in a waiting pattern until the two senators make a decision on a topline. Pelosi has told members she will not move legislation that the Senate cannot pass.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), the No. 5 House Democrat, said he remained hopeful that the talks with Manchin and Sinema would lead to a tangible result “so that we will know what is possible in the House.” and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) indirectly said Sinema is the House’s biggest problem at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. a number she is willing to support.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a leading progressive who recently met Sinema, said of the duo: “They have to tell us what they don’t agree with. And we have to be able to really negotiate.”
Still, Democrats refrain from making predictions about when Manchin and Sinema can make a decision. And even while they wait it out, for the most part they refuse to publicly criticize the two moderates, well aware that they will need their vote for any legislation passed by the Senate.
sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) reiterated on Tuesday that she is “still waiting” for Manchin and Sinema to give details of what they want.
When asked if she was frustrated with the two of them, she replied, “A little bit.”
Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.