President Joe Biden acknowledged Friday that the new spending proposed in his economic plan will have to shrink below the $3.5 trillion level set by Democratic leaders and sought by progressives in his party. He insisted, though, that both that Build Back Better plan and a bipartisan infrastructure bill will get enacted, even as intraparty disputes continue to cloud their path forward.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’re probably not going to get $3.5 trillion this year,” Biden said at an event at a Connecticut childcare center to promote the legislation. “We’re going to get something less than that. But I’m going to negotiate. I’m going to get it done with the grace of god and the good will of neighbors and the creek not rising, as my grandpop would say.”
Biden later added that he’s convinced Democrats will get the bills done: “We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion. We’ll get less than that. But we’re going to get it and we’re going to come back and get the rest.”
Sinemanchin still holding out: Biden’s professed optimism belies the struggles he and his party have faced in coming together on both the total spending in the economic plan and the specifics included in it. CNN’s Manu Raju reported Friday morning that both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) “made clear to their colleagues this week that a deal on the party's sweeping economic package is far from secured.”
Sinema reportedly told lawmakers that she felt House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision a couple of weeks ago to delay a promised vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package — legislation that Sinema played a key role in negotiating — represented a “breach in trust.” House progressives threatened to withhold their support for that bill before the broader social welfare and climate package had been settled. Sinema reportedly also indicated to lawmakers that she preferred that the House pass the infrastructure bill before she backs a broader economic package.
Raju adds that, on a call with fellow Democrats, neither Sinema nor Manchin endorsed the smaller spending range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion that Biden has proposed — a range the progressives insist is too small.
Both Sinema and Manchin also object to specific elements of the Build Back Better package and are reportedly urging that some provisions be dropped to narrow the overall scope of the plan.
“In particular,” Raju reports, “Manchin raised concerns over the proposed expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing coverage -- something that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, has contended is a red line for him and other progressives.” Progressives are pushing to keep a broader array of programs in the legislation while reducing costs by limiting the duration of some parts of the plan. That approach carries the risk that some programs don’t get renewed — and it rankles fiscal conservatives who worry that Democrats won’t cover the true costs of their long-term agenda.
Biden hints at one possible cut: Reports this week indicate that Democrats are debating a variety of potential cuts as they look to scale back the overall spending in their plan. In his speech Friday, Biden hinted at one provision that could be on the chopping block, saying that he didn’t know if he could push through his proposal to spend $109 billion over 10 years to provide two free years of community college.
The bottom line: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday told the hosts of Pod Save America that time is running short and the negotiations can’t drag on forever. "We're just in kind of the messy, messy phase,” she said, where the parties involved are shaking their “arguing for what they think is most important.” Those arguments don’t appear to be yielding much progress, though — at least not publicly. “[A]fter several one-on-one meetings between the president, Manchin and Sinema, Democrats don’t seem any closer to agreeing on a framework than a month ago,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes. “This is fueling frustration among senators who see this Congress as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass bold reforms as the House and possibly the Senate are in danger of flipping to Republicans in the 2022 midterm election.”