Manchin, Sinema leave Dems struggling as Biden’s agenda falters

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Sinema has issues with both the price and some of the tax increases designed to pay for it. After returning from his White House meeting, Manchin said he had not given Biden a number and made “no commitments from my point of view.”

Sinema and Manchin’s approach to negotiations froze the plan for Biden’s jobs and families and could potentially lead to a high-profile failure of a bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House as progressives threaten the rebellion. But without further details from the moderate duo, any hope of a bicameral deal on Biden’s agenda is a pipe dream.

Manchin and Sinema met with Biden separately on Tuesday, the second time in less than a week that they have visited the White House to voice their concerns and haggle with the president over scaling back Democrats’ plans to spend $ 3.5 trillion. dollars. Sinema also returned to the White House two more times to discuss details with staff as Manchin huddled separately with Biden for over an hour.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called meeting with Sinema “constructive” and said she and Biden “agreed we were at a pivotal moment [and] must continue to work to finalize the way forward. ”

Even as the House prepares for a vote on Senators’ bipartisan physical infrastructure bill for this week, Manchin and Sinema have yet to publicly indicate how far they are prepared to go on party line legislation. Democrats on climate change, child care and a host of other party priorities.

The back and forth between Biden and the two senators worried Democrats about the extended deadline for negotiations. And many don’t know what spending figure either would support, let alone their political objections.

“What I do know is that the longer these debates go on, the easier it is for the opposition to mislabel and distort what we are trying to do,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “If we are going to come to an agreement, it would behoove us to do it as soon as possible so that we can go out and start explaining it to people.”

In private, patience is waning in the Democratic Senate caucus.

“I’m afraid my colleagues will shoot themselves in the foot,” said a Senate Democrat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We should find a solid number and move on.”

For months, President Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) insisted on a “two-track strategy,” which meant Democrats would not pass the bipartisan package on infrastructure without the party line social spending bill. But by holding a vote on Thursday on the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill, Pelosi effectively dissociates the two, causing dismay among progressives who do not want to lose influence over the social spending plan.

“The agreement from the start was that all the pieces would move together… and one piece wouldn’t be broken and moved before the others,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Chief Schumer and Speaker Pelosi as well as Democrats in the House and Senate all said this was the deal. I want to make sure we stick to this agreement. I don’t want to see this deal broken.

Manchin and Sinema have always signaled that they do not support the $ 3.5 trillion package. At last week’s meeting, Biden urged Manchin to come back to him with a number he could support. But Manchin said he was in no rush to make a decision.

“We had good, honest and direct negotiations. There was no commitment made, no commitment from my point of view, just good negotiations talking about the needs of the country, ”said Manchin. Regarding the top spending figure, he said: “We haven’t talked about it, no. I’m just talking about the need. I look at the needs of the country.

Sinema’s office declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, Democrats are faced with a long list of things to do with little time.

“We’re coming to a point where we have to end this. I think it’s obvious, ”said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We have four major challenges to meet at the same time: government funding, management of the debt ceiling, the bipartite bill on infrastructure and reconciliation. It’s a great program. I think a breakthrough on one of them will help.

Democratic leaders are starting to recognize that any social spending program passed by the House and Senate will need to receive a major haircut from the $ 3.5 trillion plan approved by both houses of Congress in August. But that doesn’t stop some progressives from expressing frustration over Thursday’s vote on the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Even called on progressives to vote against the legislation if moderates in the White House and Senate could not come to an agreement. Meanwhile, Murphy added that he might have taken a different approach to the bipartisan infrastructure bill had he known it would be severed from the social spending plan.

“Obviously the rules change, sometimes it is necessary given the changing realities. But it can be quite frustrating, ”he said.

Across the Capitol, House Democrats are paying unusual attention to Manchin and Sinema and are largely on hold until the two senators make a decision on a headline. Pelosi told members that she will not be proposing legislation that cannot be passed by the Senate.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), House Democrat No.5, said he was hopeful that the conversations with Manchin and Sinema would lead to a tangible result “so that we know what is possible at the Bedroom”. And Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) Indirectly said Sinema was the House’s biggest problem in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, predicting that Manchin would get on board but expressing concern that a senator from a state Biden won doesn’t give a number she is willing to support.

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), A leading progressive who met Sinema recently, said of the duo: “They have to tell us what they don’t agree with. And we really have to be able to. to negotiate.”

Still, Democrats refrain from making predictions about when Manchin and Sinema might make up their minds. And even while they wait, for the most part, they refuse to publicly criticize the two moderates, well aware that they will need their votes for any legislation that passes the Senate.

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) reiterated Tuesday that she “is still waiting” for Manchin and Sinema to give details of what they want.

When asked if she was frustrated with the two, she replied, “Just a little.”

Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.


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