Democrats continued to fall short of an agreement Friday on a massive spending bill that would allow them to move forward on a vote for a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
President Biden met with House Democrats on Capitol Hill Friday afternoon and urged the party’s warring moderate and progressive wings to work through their differences and reach an understanding that would allow his ambitious agenda to pass. But there was no timeline announced for when such a deal might occur.
Democrats now hope to reach an agreement in the coming days — or weeks — as they also grapple with the looming debt-limit deadline. On Oct. 18 the government will begin defaulting on its debt obligations, which would thrust the U.S. economy into a crisis, unless Congress votes to raise the limit on how much money the government can borrow.
The lack of resolution came at the end of an intense week of negotiations among Democrats that pitted moderates against progressives. Moderates have pressed all summer for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate last month with 19 Republican votes. That legislation would provide funding to improve the nation’s roads and bridges, expand broadband internet access and enhance the power grid, among other measures.
But left-leaning Democrats, along with the party’s congressional leaders and the White House, want the infrastructure bill to be paired with a much larger budget measure that would address numerous progressive priorities, such as expanding Medicare coverage and tackling climate change. The progressives have resisted moderates’ insistence that they pass the infrastructure bill and then move on to the budget legislation, and have blocked the bipartisan deal from passing the House.
Biden reportedly endorsed that approach explicitly in his remarks to House Democrats. Infrastructure “ain’t going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation,” he said, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle.
All this week, progressives have insisted they would not support the infrastructure plan without a vote also on the budget bill. But Pelosi, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are trying to get a framework for the budget bill that would draw the support of Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., while also winning over House progressives. The Senate is evenly split between the two parties, meaning that Democrats need the votes of all 50 of their members — including Manchin and Sinema — to pass a budget.
The budget bill was originally slated to cost $3.5 trillion and include a long list of benefits, such as lower prescription drug prices, expanded health care and childcare, continued child tax credits, free community college tuition and efforts to mitigate climate change. Democrats say they are going to pay for the spending by raising taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations, although some budget experts doubt the tax hikes will generate enough revenue.
Manchin has said he would support only $1.5 trillion in spending, according to negotiations he has had with Schumer that leaked to the press Thursday, as reported first by Politico. But that figure is likely open to negotiation, and there were rumors of a $2.1 trillion compromise on Friday. Manchin has also expressed concern that some of the benefits are not “means-tested” and would therefore go to somewhat more affluent Americans in addition to the neediest.
The most pertinent details revolve around which programs might stay in the package and which are cut. Various rumors have been floated stating that particular benefits might not remain, such as the expanded child tax credit, which went into effect this past July, under which most American families with kids have received hundreds of dollars in their bank account each month. Other potential cuts include removing a proposed expansion of Medicare that would cover dental work, vision and hearing, as well as two years of free community college.
Other programs include paid leave for mothers after the birth of a child, universal pre-kindergarten, and numerous programs aimed at creating green energy jobs and curbing carbon emissions.
Taken together, even a reduced budget bill would amount to one of the most significant advances for progressive legislation since the Great Society programs championed by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.
But if Democrats cannot agree among themselves on how to make it happen, and both the infrastructure and the budget plans fall apart, it would amount to a devastating blow for the party, its supporters and the Biden presidency.
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