(Trends Wide) — With the debt ceiling crisis averted for now, the Democratic Party’s effort to finalize a far-reaching economic package to expand the social safety net will take center stage on Capitol Hill this week.
Democrats must make a series of tough decisions about how much they are willing to spend on the package and what will be included, a challenge that is made all the more difficult amid persistent and sharp divisions between progressives and moderates. If the party fails to reach consensus, a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda runs the risk of crumbling.
Also at risk is a $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Major Democrats have pushed for the bipartisan bill to pass the House before the end of the month, but its fate is intertwined with the broader economic package and that deadline is likely to be missed.
Democratic leaders in Congress now have the difficult task of trying to steer their members toward compromise, warning that some priorities may not reach a final agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to the Senate Democratic caucus on Thursday: “To pass meaningful legislation, we must put aside our differences and find common ground within our party. As with any party. bill of such historic proportions, not all members will get everything they want. “
Late last month, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives resigned from voting on the infrastructure bill amid a progressive revolt. Progressives have long made it clear that they don’t want to move forward with the bipartisan bill without a vote on the broader economic package. The progressive bloc does not want to lose influence to negotiate social safety net legislation with the moderates, who want the bipartisan infrastructure bill to become law.
After it became clear that the infrastructure bill would not be approved by the House in September, Pelosi set a deadline until the end of October for the effort, saying earlier this month in a letter to Democrats that the bipartisan bill ” it must be approved “before October 31st.
Schumer also outlined a timeline for October in his letter to the Democratic Senate caucus, while noting the challenges of pursuing a two-track strategy to enact both legislative priorities.
“I have said from the outset that implementing the two-track legislative strategy for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act would be difficult,” he wrote.
“Ultimately, we will pass legislation that will dramatically improve the lives of the American people. And we must aspire to do so in October,” he added.
If work on the economic package drags on beyond the end of October, Democrats could still get it at a later date, in November or December. But it won’t be long until Congress is faced with other pressing issues again.
The debt cap and government funding to avoid a shutdown have been extended in the short term until early December, setting up another looming fiscal crisis that will undoubtedly occupy much of lawmakers’ time and energy in the coming weeks.
Price and details
Two of the main sticking points for Democrats looking to strike a deal on the economic package are the overall price and the details to be included.
Progressives have pushed for the price to be $ 3.5 trillion, but top moderate Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have indicated they will not support that figure.
Party leaders made it clear that the price will have to be lowered to reach an agreement.
Biden said during a meeting with a group of House progressives earlier this month that the top line of the social safety net package has to drop somewhere between $ 1.9 trillion and $ 2.2 trillion.
However, so far the Democrats have not reached a consensus on the overall cost of the package.
In a call with a small group of fellow Democrats last week, neither Sinema nor Manchin supported the $ 1.9 trillion to $ 2.2 trillion price that Biden has privately proposed, stating that they have yet to see the Details from the White House on that proposal, even as progressives have indicated that the number is too small for the package.
A lowered price means that Democrats must decide how to structure the bill’s scope and has sparked a debate about whether they will cut back on certain political elements or instead implement a series of programs on a more limited time horizon.
Progressives are making it clear that they don’t want to see big cuts.
“If you are given a choice between legislating narrowly or broadly, we strongly encourage you to choose the latter and make solid investments in a shorter time frame,” wrote members of the leadership of the Progressive Caucus of Congress in a letter. to Pelosi.
What is in game?
Democrats have a high stake, considering the number of key liberal priorities they hope to include in the economic package and the fact that the package represents an opportunity to fulfill long-standing promises made to voters. Legislation is expected to broadly address a wide range of issues, such as healthcare, helping families and climate change.
“How can childcare be opposed to paid leave? How can preschool education be opposed to housing? How can climate change be opposed to any of those things?” Said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. , president of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a recent interview on Trends Wide’s “Newsroom” program.
“We would be willing to reduce the years a bit, but we need to have all those priorities in the bill,” he added.
Climate policy, in particular, looks like it could be on the chopping block, after three Congressional sources told Trends Wide Friday night that the Clean Electricity Performance Program, the cornerstone climate policy in the US package. Democrats’ social safety net will likely be removed from the final deal after pressure from Manchin.
“He does not agree with the CEPP. We have tried,” a Democratic adviser with knowledge of the negotiations told Trends Wide. The adviser told Trends Wide late last week that Democrats are trying to find ways to restructure the program to accommodate Manchin’s concerns while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Manchin’s spokeswoman Sam Runyon told Trends Wide on Friday that the senator “has clearly expressed concern about the use of taxpayer money to pay private companies to do things they are already doing. He continues to support efforts to combat climate change while protecting America’s energy independence and ensuring our energy reliability. “
Jayapal denied on Saturday that Manchin rejected the climate provisions in Biden’s broader economic bill, saying “no decision has been made, negotiations continue.”
Trends Wide’s Manu Raju, Ella Nilsen, Annie Grayer and Ryan Nobles contributed.