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'Failure is not an option' for Dems' reconciliation bill: Democratic Strategist

Jim Manley, Former Democratic Aide to Senators Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy, discusses the latest on House Dems' $3.5T reconciliation bill.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's bring in somebody who is very familiar with the deal-making in Washington. We've got Jim Manley, longtime Democratic strategist. He served as a Democratic aide to Senators Harry Reid and the late Ted Kennedy as well. And Jim, you've been hearing Rick talk about just what has transpired over the last 24 hours. How optimistic are you that either one of these bills gets passed?

JIM MANLEY: Yeah, I'm a little bit more bearish than some of the folks that have been talking this morning, though I can argue it both ways. On the one hand, the good news is people are actually negotiating, OK? So any time they're talking, that's a good thing. That's point number one.

Point number two, say what you will about Senator Manchin, the fact that his letter yesterday leaked out, that he finally put down a number of $1.5 trillion, a number, by the way, that's not going to fly, but at least we have a number on it, a guide. So, you know, you put together a couple of things, data points like that, and I find it a little bit encouraging that there's actually a little bit of progress.

So what's going on, as, we speak is that the House Democratic Caucus is meeting, as we speak. And they're chewing over the developments from last night, not only the letter from Senator Manchin making his deadline-- or his bottom line of $1.5 trillion, but the comments by Senator Sanders and other-- others that, you know, are throwing up some real objections to what's going on here. And according to the Twitter, the House Progressive Caucus is also raising their objections, again, to going that low. And they want an actual bill before they-- on reconciliation before they agree to vote for the infrastructure bill.

Now, they're not going to get an actual bill. The question is, is whether the speaker of the House is going to be able to put together a framework of the reconciliation bill that she can show to these folks and say, you know, this is what we got for right now. Let the process go forward. And let's see how it plays from here out. Now, I know Speaker Pelosi pretty well. I've seen her wheel and deal. And I would never bet against the lady. That's all I'm saying. But--

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah.

JIM MANLEY: --it's not a slam dunk here, by any stretch of the imagination.

ZACK GUZMAN: No, definitely not. And we kind of glossed over there, you said, you know, $1.5 trillion not going to fly from Joe Manchin. But that's rather important, because if it doesn't fly, you don't have your-- you don't have the number that you need to get it done. So I mean, how do you see that specific battle going, because he's been pretty active about not wanting to spend?

JIM MANLEY: Yep. So there's two things that are known, whether you accept it or not. Number one, $1.5 trillion is never going to fly. And equally important, $3.5 trillion is never going to fly. And so the question is, what can you find that, quote unquote, "splits the difference?" And conventional wisdom has about $2.1 trillion in spending over 10 years. Maybe you cut off some of these programs a little bit early, you know, to get the cost-- fix the cost a little bit.

But you know, again, I'm here to say, and they're still arguing about it as we speak within this caucus, $3.5 trillion is never going to fly. And as far as I'm concerned, failure here is not an option. Everything is rising on it. The 2022 elections, the fate of the Biden agenda, the outlook for Democratic-- Democrats governing from here on out, it's all in the cards right here now.

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's talk about the outlook then. We've heard the progressive lawmakers say, look, this is what we were voted in to do. And if these priorities are not passed, we're going to hear from it from voters come midterm elections.

Now, this also comes as we've seen President Biden's approval ratings dip. He's certainly had a very rough month, which started with the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan. What's the calculation there? And how do you think public sentiment has shifted?

JIM MANLEY: Yeah. Well, you had mentioned-- or you know, when I was introduced, I was introduced in part as a former spokesman for Senator Kennedy for almost 12 years. What I learned from Senator Kennedy is compromise is not a dirty word. Sometimes you've got to take half a loaf and work to get the rest of the loaf later on in the legislative process.

Now, you know, the question is whether-- you know, progressives are feeling good right now. They see that they have a chance to strike. And again, I don't have to apologize because I'm a proud liberal, but you know, they're going to have to trim their sails a little bit, because, again, they're not going to get everything they want for. So as far as I'm concerned, again, the question is where you can find areas of compromise.

And as I mentioned earlier, you know, I guess I take some solace in the fact that everybody's finally talking instead of drawing lines in the sand or taking hostages. But you know, as you folks are well aware, once we get out of this, you know, we've still got to deal with the debt limit as well. As others have mentioned, it's going to be a bad, bad month. Well, actually, it's going to be a bad, bad couple of months. I don't think this is going to be resolved--

AKIKO FUJITA: A couple of months.

JIM MANLEY: [INAUDIBLE]

AKIKO FUJITA: I was going to say, I mean, December is right around the corner, right, when they have to revisit--

JIM MANLEY: You got it. Yep.

AKIKO FUJITA: --the debt limit. Jim, it's good to get your insights, and I really appreciate the time. Jim Manley, former Democratic aide to Senator Harry Reid as well as Ted Kennedy.