Harris, senators work behind scenes on jobs package

Vice President Harris, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other top Democrats are working behind the scenes to put together a massive infrastructure and jobs package that is increasingly likely to pass without any GOP votes.

Democratic senators are jockeying to get their priorities added to the proposal — a sharp contrast to the small group of moderate Republicans and Democrats who are trying to craft a slimmed-down compromise measure.

Harris is soliciting ideas from Democratic lawmakers about what should be included in a broader infrastructure package that is expected to be based on Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

“The vice president is apparently calling all the Democratic members for their ideas, so there apparently is a bill in formation,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

And there’s a long line of Democrats who have thoughts on what should be included.

Durbin himself is pushing for additional education provisions, while Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to add language lowering the Medicare eligibility age.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wants to substantially boost funding for child care. 

“We’re in communication on a very regular basis with the administration’s whole team about the pieces that are essential to create opportunity going forward,” Warren said Thursday. 

“I want to see more money for child care and early childhood education. If we shortchange that area, we shortchange every baby, every mama and every daddy and every care worker in this country,” she added.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who wants to make workforce training programs eligible for Pell Grants, said he’s been in touch with Democratic leaders about the infrastructure package.

“I’ve done a lot with our leadership,” Kaine said of his efforts to get some of his ideas included in the eventual infrastructure and jobs bill that many Democrats expect to pass under reconciliation if bipartisan negotiations stall.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is seeking more funding for oceans and coastal areas hit hard by the effects of climate change, said he is working through “leadership” and the “committee structure” on his priorities.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is pressing leadership to include the PRO Act, which would expand protections for workers trying to organize, to any infrastructure and jobs package that passes under budget reconciliation.

“We’re working on it,” Brown said after Biden’s Wednesday night speech.

Biden said Wednesday evening that his infrastructure agenda would “help our kids and businesses succeed” and announced that he was “asking the vice president to help lead this effort.”

The president also revealed that Harris has participated in regular meetings with lawmakers on his infrastructure agenda.

“Vice President Harris and I meet regularly in the Oval Office with Democrats and Republicans to discuss the American Jobs Plan,” he said Wednesday.

The various proposals sought by Senate Democrats are being discussed with the White House and Democratic leadership, outside the bipartisan negotiations between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other moderates.

Manchin and his colleagues across the aisle are focusing on how to narrowly define infrastructure in a way that would likely exclude many of the Democratic spending priorities competing for attention.

Schumer hasn’t yet said when the Senate will move forward on Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which have a combined estimated cost of $4.1 trillion, or whether he’ll move the president’s priorities in one package — or two or three.

Congressional Democrats say they’re waiting for Manchin, a pivotal centrist vote in the 50-50 Senate, to explore the possibility of a compromise with Republican senators, even though they expect the talks to fail eventually. 

“I don’t think anybody thinks the bipartisan talks are going to lead to anything,” said one Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment on internal deliberations.

“There’s not a single pay-for that they’ll agree to that’s meaningful,” the lawmaker added, referring to the gulf between Democrats and Republicans over how to cover the cost of the package.

Republicans want to repurpose some of the $350 billion allocated to state and local governments in last month’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, an idea that many Democrats reject, and raise another big chunk of money through “user fees,” which Democrats argue would provide too little revenue to transform the economy.

Biden has proposed raising taxes on corporations and high-income households to finance his infrastructure proposals.

Republicans, such as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), say raising the corporate tax rate is a “non-starter.” 

Democratic senators and staff say they’ll give the bipartisan talks a few weeks because they know they can’t get Manchin, and maybe a few other centrist Democrats, to vote for the reconciliation package until it’s clear a bipartisan deal won’t materialize.

“If it got close, [Senate GOP Leader] Mitch McConnell would shut it down because he doesn’t want a successful outcome,” said a second Democratic senator. 

“But you got to have 50 votes to do it, that’s the challenge,” the lawmaker added, referring to Manchin’s insistence that he and other moderate Democrats be given a chance to craft a scaled-down infrastructure package with Republicans.

“In order to have the Democratic caucus together, he’s got to make a good-faith effort,” the source added, while noting that lengthy negotiations with Republicans on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 failed to yield a single GOP vote for former President Obama’s signature domestic policy. 

“We’ll see that again. You heard it last night with Tim Scott,” the senator added on Thursday, referring to Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) rebuttal to Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress in which the president laid out his American Families Plan and other spending priorities. 

Scott suggested that Biden is delivering “empty platitudes” instead of fulfilling his promise to “unite a nation.”

Democrats are taking that rhetoric as a sign they won’t find the 10 Republican senators needed to overcome a filibuster on infrastructure. They have yet to decide whether to move Biden’s infrastructure agenda in one or two packages under budget reconciliation, which would allow them to bypass a filibuster and pass legislation with simple-majority votes in both chambers. 

Some Democrats are now calling for combining the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan into one massive omnibus package, passing it in one fell swoop. 

But that would require Manchin’s vote, and the vote of every other member of the Democratic senator, since Republicans would undoubtedly oppose it.

For now, Manchin says he’s not ready to vote for something on that scale.

Tags American Families Plan american jobs plan Bernie Sanders bipartisan budget reconciliation Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Infrastructure Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell Sheldon Whitehouse Shelley Moore Capito Sherrod Brown Tim Kaine Tim Scott

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