Democratic members of Congress trooped to the White House Tuesday in the latest effort to hammer out an agreement on a multitrillion-dollar social spending bill they are trying to enact without Republican support.
Nine members of the far-left House Progressive Caucus emerged from a nearly two-hour meeting with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaking hopefully of progress, but had few details to point to.
“We are feeling good,” caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters. “I think the president has been working incredibly hard to get everybody to a place where we can move this forward and finish this process so that we can start on whatever is the next important thing that we need to do.”
Congress originally passed a $3.5 trillion framework for the social spending bill, which progressives intended to fund a variety of social safety net programs as well as a federal response to the impact of climate change. However, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have objected to that level of spending, forcing their Democratic colleagues to scale back their ambitions.
Jayapal said Tuesday that Biden has set his sights on a topline spending figure of between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, the same figures he reportedly gave the progressive caucus when he met with his members earlier this month.
“Look, it’s not the number that we want,” she said. “We have consistently tried to make it as high as possible. But at the end of the day, the idea that we can do these programs, a multitude of programs, and actually get them going so that they deliver immediate transformational benefits to people is what we’re focused on.”
However, the Washington Post reported Tuesday night that Biden had suggested that progressives accept a topline figure of between $1.75 trillion and $1.9 trillion, far less than their initial ask.
“The president is the inspirer, he is the closer, he is the convincer, the mediator-in-chief,” Jayapal told reporters outside the White House. “He really is doing a phenomenal job.”
Climate change is the latest issue that threatens to submarine the measure after Manchin objected to a proposal that Washington dole out financial rewards to electric utilities that meet certain clean energy benchmarks and impose penalties on utilities that don’t. The effort would have been part of Biden’s push for the US to generate 80 percent of its electricity from “clean” sources by 2030.
Manchin has also come out against a carbon tax, telling reporters it was “not on the board at all right now.”
“We are still waiting to see exactly what the agreement is around how we ensure that we get carbon emissions reductions and I think that there are lots of possibilities on the table, some of which might be in the bill, some of which may not be,” Jayapal acknowledged Tuesday.
“And so, we just need to continue to look at the final agreement around that, because I don’t think there is a final agreement there, but we’re hopeful that we’re going to get to a significant investment in climate.”
The far-left lawmaker added that the group did not discuss Manchin’s proposal to place a family income cap of around $60,000 on an expanded child tax credit proposal, another demand that has rankled progressives.
While Manchin’s intransigence has frustrated progressive Democrats and the White House alike, he suggested Tuesday evening that he and his colleagues could reach an agreement on the spending bill’s final form by the end of the week.
“Sure, that’s possible,” he told reporters. “That’s what we’re working on every night now. We’re talking morning and night to see if there’s a framework that we can agree on.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that Biden had met with Manchin and Sinema earlier Tuesday, but did not have further details or say why they weren’t brought into the room with Jayapal and other progressives to hammer out their differences face to face.
After sitting down with the progressives, Biden met Tuesday evening with a group of eight moderate lawmakers — including three senators, but not Manchin or Sinema — for nearly 90 minutes.
One participant in the late meeting, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), said in a statement that the meeting was “productive” and “I remain optimistic” that both the social spending bill and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure could clear Congress.
Psaki said in a late statement that Tuesday had been “a day of constructive meetings” and that Biden was “more confident this evening about the path forward to delivering for the American people on strong, sustained economic growth that benefits everyone.”
“There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the socialist chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the driving legislative force behind the $3.5 trillion social spending bill, said he would meet with Manchin Tuesday night.
On Monday, the two had stood shoulder-to-shoulder grinning at reporters mere days after Manchin chastised Sanders for attempting to press him into supporting the legislation by publishing an op-ed in a West Virginia newspaper.
“We’re talking,” both men had said at the time. “We’re talking.”
On Monday, Jayapal had vowed that Congress would pass both the social spending bill and the infrastructure bill after meeting with Manchin earlier in the day.
“We’re going to get them both done. We are going to get them done. It is a messy process. Democracy is not always easy. Negotiation is not always easy,” she told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “There are differences. Everybody knows there are differences. We have to bridge them, and we got to come together because, at the end of the day, we have to deliver both these bills, the infrastructure bill and Build Back Better Act, to the president’s desk.”