President Joe Biden was hosting two pivotal senators for meetings in Delaware on Sunday in hopes of resolving lingering disputes over Democrats’ long-stalled effort to craft an expansive social and environment measure.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., were scheduled to attend the session, the White House said.
Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., two of their party’s most moderate members, have insisted on reducing the size of the package and have pressed for other changes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said she was waiting for the Senate to wrap up talks on the framework and was expecting a plan to be introduced as early as Monday. Top Democrats are scrambling to act on legislation by week’s end so they can pass a separate, roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill by Oct. 31, when a series of transportation programs will lapse.
“I think we’re pretty much there,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told CNN’s “State of the Union,” stressing that a few “last decisions” to be made. “It is less than what was projected to begin with, but it’s still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America’s working families.”
Democrats initially planned that the measure would contain $3.5 trillion worth of spending and tax initiatives over 10 years. But demands by moderates led by Manchin and Sinema to contain costs mean its final price tag could well be less than $2 trillion.
Disputes remain over whether some priorities must be cut or excluded. These include plans to expand Medicare coverage, child care assistance and helping lower-income college students. Manchin, whose state has a major coal industry, has opposed proposals to penalize utilities that do not switch quickly to clean energy.
Pelosi said Democrats were still working to keep in provisions for four weeks of paid family leave but acknowledged that other proposals such as expanding Medicare to include dental coverage could prove harder to save because of cost. “Dental will take a little longer to implement,” she said.
The White House and congressional leaders have tried to push monthslong negotiations toward a conclusion by the end of October. Democrats’ aim is to produce an outline by then that would spell out the overall size of the measure and describe policy goals that leaders as well as progressives and moderates would endorse.
The wide-ranging measure carries many of Biden’s top domestic priorities. Party leaders want to end internal battles, avert the risk that the effort could fail and focus voters’ attention on the plan’s popular programs for helping families with child care, health costs and other issues.
Democrats also want Biden to be able to cite accomplishments when he attends a global summit in Scotland on climate change in early November. They also have wanted to make progress that could help Democrat Terry McAuliffe win a neck-and-neck Nov. 2 gubernatorial election in Virginia.
Pelosi and Biden have a deadline for next week. Manchin does not. Pretending Manchin isn't holding 99.99% of the leverage here is wishful thinking, and that's been true for months now. Manchin will get the cuts he decides on. The alternative is nothing, which is what chance Dems will have in the future if this bill self-destructs.
The question remains if he will move the goalposts again, or if Sinema will do so.
The long-term solution remains 52+ Democratic senators.