President Joe Biden held multiple meetings with Democratic lawmakers Tuesday in an effort to forge a consensus on his sweeping social spending plan.
Biden met Tuesday morning with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, key figures in an evenly divided Senate who oppose some elements of the Biden plan.
In the afternoon, along with Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Biden met with a group of liberal Democrats, including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Mark Pocan (WI), Debbie Dingell (MI), Katherine Clark (MA), Ritchie Torres (NY), Jimmy Gomez (CA), Jared Huffman (CA), Ro Khanna (CA) and Barbara Lee (CA).
Calling the meeting “really good, really productive,” Jayapal said that the group had discussed a bill focused on major priorities costing somewhere in the range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion – a substantial cut from the $3.5 trillion some Democrats have discussed in recent weeks, but likely a necessary reduction given the resistance to the higher number among some members of the caucus.
A post-meeting statement from the Congressional Progressive Caucus indicates that Democrats are reducing the duration of some of their proposed social programs in order to reduce the overall cost. “We … appreciate the President fighting for progress on all of these key priorities, even if it is for a shorter period of time, as the CPC had articulated weeks ago is our preferred option to bring down the overall price tag,” the group said.
Later in the day, a group of moderate or conservative Democrats who have expressed concerns about some parts of the Biden plan came to the White House, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Jon Tester (MT) and Mark Warner (VA), and Reps. Ami Bera (CA), Mike Thompson (CA), Suzan DelBene (WA), Josh Gottheimer (NJ) and Tom O'Halleran (AZ).
“The new series of meetings reflect a fresh political urgency over Biden’s core promise to overhaul health care, education, immigration, climate and tax laws,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm and Marianna Sotomayor say. “With negotiations stalled for months — and tempers at times flaring publicly between Democrats’ warring factions — the president hopes to rally the Capitol and hit the road to try to get his agenda back on track.”
Aiming for a framework this week: Given the current level of discord over specific provisions of the Biden plan, it seems unlikely that Democrats can produce a detailed bill in the near future. But several key Democrats said Tuesday that they hope to reach some kind of agreement in a few days.
After a lunch meeting with colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Democrats recognized the need to resolve their disputes soon and agree on a “framework” for the bill. “We had a very spirited discussion at our lunch,” Schumer said. “There was universal agreement in that room that we have to come to an agreement and we have to get it done, we want to get it done this week.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders signaled that it’s time for the negotiations to produce results. “The American people are tired of these discussions never ending,” he said.
Manchin seemed to agree. “There is a general feeling that negotiations have been going on month after month after month and that it is time that we brought this thing to a head as soon as we possibly can,” he said. “I would hope that we would see some real action this week.”
Manchin reportedly told colleagues that he would work with Sanders this week to hammer out a framework, with Sinema getting involved as well and Schumer coordinating the talks.
“There’s lots of meetings going on,” Schumer said. “There’ll be all kinds of meetings, together and separately to get this done, but we’re really — the pace has picked up. The desire to get it done is strong.”
Leader expects vote: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said he plans to stick to the schedule Democrats have agreed to, which means holding votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger reconciliation package in less than two weeks.
"On the Build Back [Better] agenda, we're committed to meeting the deadline of Oct. 31," Hoyer told reporters. "We're working very hard to have both of those bills ready to be passed by the House of Representatives before that date."
At the same time, Hoyer said he recognized that the bill will have to be smaller, with Democrats focusing on fewer programs. “I continue to believe we ought to use the Build Back Better Act to do fewer things better. That, I think, is our principal responsibility,” he said. “Obviously, we have to create consensus, we have to create the votes to pass that bill. And in doing so I would urge all of us to focus on the most consequential of the items which we’re considering.”
The bottom line: Democrats seem to be gaining some momentum on their contentious social spending plan, but there are a lot of problems that still need to be solved.