(Trends Wide) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Joe Biden spoke by phone last Tuesday and focused on a strategy for their party’s broad economic package. They decided the time has come to conclude the negotiations, senior officials from both places have told Trends Wide, a sign of growing unease from Democrats at a critical time for their domestic agenda.
And for many Democrats in Congress, finalizing a deal now rests primarily on the shoulders of one man: Biden, whom lawmakers want to play a strong public role in outlining what they want to see in the final package.
The surge in attention to the president comes as concern grows, both in the West Wing and on Capitol Hill, that dragging out talks until November could end in a stalemate and ultimately doom his prospects for the future. next year’s midterm elections.
Not only that, they say, but it could heighten the feeling among voters that Biden cannot fulfill the main promise of his presidency: that he would be able to make government really work.
“You don’t want to get to a point where we seem so indecisive that you can’t fix it with the package that is going to be passed and start impacting people’s lives,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio who he’s running for the open seat in his state Senate next year and he’s concerned about the political impact of a prolonged standoff.
Privately, Democrats are increasingly frustrated with Biden’s approach.
“The reality right now is that a lot of people are saying, ‘Where’s Joe Biden? This is his agenda, why isn’t he more involved in the negotiations?” Said a House Democrat, mirroring the conversations that they are taking place among grassroots congressmen.
While most of the blame goes to moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for delaying the deal in the Senate, which is split in two, several Capitol Democrats want Biden to say explicitly what a potential compromise should look like, and start doing more to explain what is at stake to voters. For the moment, the legislation that defines his presidency seems completely lost in the talk of reconciliation and filibuster reform and numbers so large that no one can understand them.
Among those growing increasingly frustrated is Senator Bernie Sanders, who has told Biden directly that while he sympathizes with all the pressure Biden is under, the lengthy process has subsumed any effort to promote popular items. they are trying to approve, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Confusion Among Democrats Over Biden’s Latest Offer
This view was brought out in a private conference call with a small group of Democratic lawmakers and Manchin and Sinema last week, during which the two senators were confused about Biden’s decision to propose a new price for the plan: between US $ 1.9 and US $ 2.2 trillion. Senators said they were unwilling to support that dollar amount because they had not yet seen details from the White House on what that package would cover, sources familiar with the matter said.
“Let’s see your proposal and negotiate lower,” Sinema recalled telling the president, according to a source familiar with the call.
Some Democrats are stumped.
“Why is the president proposing that figure without having Manchin and Sinema on board?” Said a Democratic lawmaker. “There seems to be a pretty big miscalculation on the part of the White House.”
Among the issues to be resolved: whether some key programs proposed in the initial $ 3.5 trillion plan are eliminated to cut their cost – a position favored by Manchin and Sinema – or is the same number of programs offered and the cost cut? number of years to provide Americans with the benefits, a position endorsed by progressives.
Biden and his top advisers continue to privately suggest that they feel a already seen of the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, realizing that they are once again moving toward victory despite bad daily headlines and failing to satisfy the Capitol roost or Twitter.
Even as impatience and anxiety begin to spread in the West Wing, Biden still doesn’t hit the road to get the support and vote pressure he wants. His last stop was on Friday in Connecticut, where he gave a short speech in which he presented the outline of his “Build Back Better” program. Although White House advisers argue that national attention follows him wherever he goes, there are no Democrats near Hartford who are swayed by the local attention it could generate in more competitive territory.
Although concern about Covid-19 has somewhat limited the White House’s travels, a senior official argued that the main reason Biden has not come out more is the precaution of not setting a position too early that could force him to making too many promises or negotiating against yourself.
White House aides stress that Biden has remained highly engaged behind the scenes with Congressional leaders and other key players, and essentially that those who demand that he do more don’t know the scope of what he’s doing because they are not as relevant. nor are they so involved.
Although some of the conversations the president has had with congressmen have been announced by the White House or leaked, he has had many more, either through several phone calls in a single session from a patio outside the oval office or in a series of meetings by Zoom, like the ones he had in the last two weeks with a dozen progressives in one day and with another dozen front-line lawmakers the next day. Those calls were an opportunity for congressmen to voice their concerns about how negotiations and aspects of the bill were unfolding in their districts, according to senior White House officials.
There are also other more intimate opportunities for the president to speak with legislators. Following the signatures of the bills, Biden has repeatedly summoned lawmakers for lengthy listening sessions in the Oval Office. Attendees have met with other staff members and reported to the president, sometimes several times a day.
But Biden’s decision to let the discussions unfold in public without him has contributed to what a senior Democratic adviser on Capitol Hill called a “quagmire” with no clear end. “Multiple groups within the caucus thought that they were the ones defending the president and his agenda in relation to the legislative process,” said the adviser. “There is someone who could have resolved that lively disagreement more explicitly.”
Moving cautiously at a time of high risk
Biden and his collaborators fear, however, that taking a clearer position will only stiffen the opposition and further slow progress, as it works not only to attract Manchin and Sinema, but also to prevent other moderates and progressives. leave the ship.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington State, who chairs the progressive caucus of Congress, said that in her conversations with Biden and his top advisers, she has stressed that “we have to get 50 senators on board, not just two. We have to get 218 votes in the House, not just nine or ten. “
The commitments have already created intense unrest, as some lawmakers look to the bipartisan component of the infrastructure deal in the negotiations and fear that – far from being a measure to fight climate change – it could end up being negative in terms of carbon emissions. carbon, given all the new roads that will be built. Still, Democrats cling to the hope that if they do get a bill completed, it will include popular elements like paid leave and childcare, and voters will reward them at the polls.
But failing to pass a bill would also be an encouragement, Biden told House Democrats on a visit to the House of Representatives Democratic caucus earlier this month, arguing that he has heard from the president of Russia. , Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, that democracy cannot work. That argument, said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a first-year Democrat from Massachusetts, also resonated with some colleagues.
Many Democrats already believe that Biden’s low-key approach has lost them the political benefits of the child tax break from the Spring American Rescue Plan, which has been sending hundreds of dollars each month directly to millions of families in the United States. Even if they get over the current drama and pass a bill, top Democrats say they are behind in defending what would likely be the most transformative piece of domestic policy legislation in decades.
“It is a missed opportunity for the candidates who are there,” Jayapal said. “That should be their message. It should be ours too. Instead, everyone is focusing on the biggest numbers.”
Ryan, as one of those candidates, said he’s already feeling that.
“If people don’t know what’s in it, it’s really our fault,” the Ohio Democrat said. “Whatever comes out of it, whatever the points the bill contains, they are so shocking to people’s lives that if you can’t sell this to your constituents you have to go find another job, and probably you’ll have to do it. ”