President Joe Biden vowed on Friday that Democrats will deliver on their agenda as congressional leaders attempt to resolve divisions between moderates and progressives that have put passage of a sweeping economic package and a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill in jeopardy.
“We’re going to get this done,” Biden told reporters. Pressed on a timeline, the President said, “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks — we’re going to get it done.”
Biden was on Capitol Hill Friday afternoon meeting with members of the House Democratic Caucus as Democratic leaders and White House officials labor to strike a deal on the economic framework that they hope can unlock enough votes for infrastructure.
The comments from the President may relieve some of the deadline pressure on Democrats to swiftly strike a deal and resolve the impasse, but are just as likely an acknowledgment of the reality that a deal is not expected to be reached immediately given the number of sticking points that remain.
Two sources familiar with ongoing talks told CNN that a deal on the so-called framework of the economic package isn’t finished or imminent at this current moment.
The price tag
One of the major outstanding issues that Democrats must come to an agreement on is the overarching price tag of their economic package that would expand the social safety net. Progressives have wanted $3.5 trillion, but key moderates have balked at the number and said it will have to be lower.
After days of stalemate between moderates and progressives, however, there now appears to be more of an effort underway to find common ground and compromise over the cost of the economic package.
As they left the meeting with Biden, several lawmakers said that the President had informed them that the top-line number where they are likely to find agreement is somewhere between $1.9 trillion and around $2 trillion.
Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas said that was the range Biden told the group and asked them to find common ground within that number.
Cuellar said he viewed Biden’s pitch as a way to show progressives that they are on the same page, but they were going to have to find ways to compromise.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal suggested Friday that progressive Democrats may have to have to reduce the number they are asking for.
“We need to get this reconciliation bill,” said Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state. “And you know, it’s going be tough. We’re going to have to come down in our number, and we’re going to have to do that work. So we’re going to get to work and see what we can get to.”
But Jayapal also said that Biden was “very clear” that the package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill are “tied together.”
“We need to get both bills done, and that’s what we’re going to do,” she said.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland left a meeting with House progressives and said the group is optimistic about the path forward, but he did acknowledge that he and his fellow progressives will have to find ways to trim their $3.5 trillion package in a way that meets most of their goals.
“We understand that there are different proposals for the amounts of money to be spent, and we’re just going to have to come up with the right number and maybe not everything can be funded for 10 years,” Raskin said.
“Maybe it’s going to be a lesser period of time, but at least we’ll be able to develop these programs and make a commitment to the American people, then we’ll be able to make a judgment after four years or five years of the programs. Are they working? Do they deserve more investment or do they not?”
Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill
After the roughly half hour meeting with the President, Democrats described a leader who was in his element and not working to change minds as much as remind members of their shared and unified goals as a caucus.
Biden tried to break down the stalemate and the tensions that have hung over the party for weeks, reminding them that he’s not on one side or the other. At one point, he made a reference to his own political ideology, saying, “Who knows what label I get.”
To which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi replied: “President,” prompting loud laughter from the room.
Biden also talked about how he had redone his office to have paintings hung of Lincoln and FDR — “a deeply divided country and the biggest economic transformation,” said Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, “which is kind of the moment we’re in.”
However, some members left the meeting with Biden happy to have seen him but still perplexed by next steps.
One Democrat who spoke on the condition of background said they still weren’t sure what was happening Friday night but quipped that everyone wanted to know including their family and “my dogs.”
“It’s unclear what’s happening the rest of the day, let alone the rest of the week or month,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
The high-stakes visit to the Hill by the President comes as some Democrats have been calling for Biden to play a more active role in the process.
Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said on Friday ahead of the visit, “I think the President should be involved,” and said “very few of us have seen the President in nine months he’s been President. And I think he should come to a caucus.”
Whether Biden’s involvement will be able to significantly change the dynamic or lead to any kind of a breakthrough still remains to be seen. Divisions within the party were on full display Thursday evening when House Democratic leaders punted on a vote for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill as progressives revolted and vowed to sink the bill. Progressives don’t want to move forward with the bipartisan bill without a vote on the economic package, which could have a price tag of up to $3.5 trillion.
Path forward still unclear
As of Friday, however, the path forward was still unclear and some Democrats started to openly express frustration with the delay.
Moderates are irritated that there hasn’t yet been a vote on the bipartisan bill after Democratic leaders promised one would take place.
Centrist Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of California gave voice to that sentiment, saying, “I feel frustrated. I want to vote today on this on this package.” Reflecting the uncertainty on the Hill over what happens next, he said, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Some progressives, meanwhile, have expressed frustration that they didn’t know West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s topline negotiating position sooner so they could have started the negotiation process earlier. Manchin made clear Thursday that $1.5 trillion was the price tag he was willing to settle on for his party’s plan to expand the social safety net, putting him $2 trillion away from the lowest number progressive Democrats have said they would accept.
Other Democrats, however, have shown more patience and have suggested it’s good that talks are underway as they express optimism a deal will come together.
House Democratic caucus chairman Hakeem Jefferies said on Friday, “The speaker has indicated that we’re going to vote today. I expect to vote today, and I expect that the bill will pass today. … I’m hopeful that we’ll get some clarity within the next hour or so from the Senate, as it relates to what they view as possible, so we can decide what is acceptable.”
Highway trust fund may get stopgap relief
Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a “Plan B” for the highway trust fund, which expired at midnight.
House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said early Friday evening they would “move forward on this extension,” referring to highway funding, but didn’t give an exact time.
Rep. Mark Takano of California confirmed earlier in the day that House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio presented a plan to do a stopgap bill, and said he “presumes” a vote will happen Friday.
New Hampshire Rep. Annie Kuster said the House will likely pass a bill extending highway funding for 30 days to prevent programs from lapsing, and give the negotiators more time to strike a deal on the other packages.
“I think they’ll do the 30-day, give them some time to negotiate the details,” she said. “And then we’ll pass both bills.”
Democrats had hoped to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which included highway funding, before surface transportation authority expired September 30.
Any kind of stopgap bill would need cooperation to clear Congress quickly.
Some senators have left town already, including key moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Sinema left Washington and is in Phoenix, Arizona, for a medical appointment, according to a statement from her office. The statement said, however, that she is continuing negotiations remotely.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Friday.
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