Top Democrats have set a Wednesday deadline to finalize a deal and present a proposal that would dramatically expand the social safety net and address key priorities like health care and climate change, but it still remains a daunting task to unite the competing demands from moderates and progressives who have been at odds over the price tag, scope and many of the details.
Democrats are eying adding a debt limit increase to a stop-gap spending measure to keep the government open past September 30, in a bid to pressure resistant Republicans to vote for it. In addition, Democrats want to include billions of dollars for natural disaster recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida along with money for efforts related to the evacuation from Afghanistan. But without an agreement from both parties, Congress could stumble into a government shutdown by month’s end and an unprecedented debt default by the middle of next month.
Series of deadlines approach
The clock is ticking as a series of key deadlines loom. Democratic leaders told key committee chairman to submit their pieces of the larger proposal by Wednesday, a deadline that has forced committees to negotiate privately for weeks in an effort to put together legislative text.
“What we have worked on is working both of those bills in tandem,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, told Bash in a separate interview on Sunday. “They go together. It would be a really sad state of affairs for the American people, for Congress, if both of those bills went down.”
Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said they want to see the party’s massive bill to expand the social safety net on the floor by the week of September 20, according to multiple sources on a caucus call last week. They didn’t commit to that timeframe but indicated that was their goal.
The next major deadline is September 27, after Pelosi catered to the demands of moderate democrats and agreed to put the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the floor by that day. But progressives have said they will not support the bipartisan deal without the massive economic package so if that is not done in time then Democrats may not have the votes needed to pass the infrastructure bill.
Democrats disagree on price tag and what’s in the package
The narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress have empowered opposite ideological wings within the Democratic party to boldly make demands, intensifying the challenge facing leadership to knit the party together. Senate Democrats control only 50 seats in the chamber and will need the votes of every last one to pass the package, while Pelosi can’t lose more than three Democratic votes. Democrats are planning to pass the legislation using the budget reconciliation process to circumvent the filibuster and a 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
The overarching price tag for the economic package is one of the major issues currently confronting Democrats.
Manchin did not say what his ceiling would be on a price tag, but again floated a topline between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion on “State of the Union.”
Sanders strongly pushed back, telling Bash of that possibility, “It is absolutely not acceptable to me. I don’t think it’s acceptable to the President, to the American people or to the overwhelming majority of the people in the Democratic caucus.”
Pelosi has already shown little desire to pare back the price tag.
“The number is the number, $3.5 (trillion), we can’t go above that,” she told CNN last week. Asked about the likelihood she will have to go below that level, the California Democrat responded, “Why?”
Beyond the topline spending level, there are sticking points over the substance of the legislation with progressives and moderates again at odds.
Manchin in the spotlight
The senator who represents the fossil fuel-rich state of West Virginia is making clear he won’t cave on aggressive climate provisions sought by many Democrats. Asked by Bash about clean energy provisions to use tax incentives and carbon capture to try to cut emissions, Manchin said, “The transition is happening. Now they’re wanting to pay companies to do what they’re already doing. It makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they’re going to do as the market transitions.”
Asked about increasing funding for home care services for the sick and elderly, he said, “We have $60 billion that hasn’t even gone out the door yet. Only thing I’m saying is why (the) urgency to spend another $300 billion towards that, when you got $60 billion that hasn’t even gone out. Don’t you think we ought to find out what happened?”
All of those issues and much more could become a major problem as Democrats try to wrangle their members in support of a sweeping package.
Even the timeline itself has become an issue with moderates calling for the process to be slowed down.
Manchin has called for “a strategic pause,” and moderate Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida has laid into Democrats for rushing their efforts to finish their economic agenda bill by September 15, calling the process “incredibly frustrating.”
Leadership has shown no signs of slowing down, however. Pelosi has rebuffed Manchin’s demand for a pause, saying, “Obviously, I don’t agree,” while Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has told reporters, “We’re moving full speed ahead.”
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.