Pressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks

The clock is ticking for President Biden and White House officials to broker an agreement among congressional Democrats on the president's economic agenda as patience in some corners wears thin.

The House has yet to vote on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in August, but Biden has stressed that the legislation and a more comprehensive reconciliation package containing his domestic priorities must both reach his desk for his economic vision to become reality.

Democrats, however, are still haggling over what should be included in that broader bill, and Biden has struggled to win over Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have raised concerns about the initial $3.5 trillion price tag.

The dragged-out process, which comes amid lagging poll numbers for the president and with two critical gubernatorial elections on the horizon, has caused consternation among top administration officials.

"We can't do this forever. We're not doing this forever," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told the hosts of "Pod Save America" in an episode posted Thursday. "Time is running short here. We've got to come to a time where we figure out what's the best version we can get enough votes for that is still going to have a historic impact."

Negotiations can be complicated, and the final bill will require compromise, Psaki said, arguing that the back-and-forth means democracy is working.

"Right now, we're just in kind of the messy, messy phase where people are doing their ... peacock feathers, you know what I mean?" she said. "In public and arguing for what they think is most important."

But a number of Democrats and even some within the Biden administration feel time is running out for Biden to secure a win on one or both of the bills that he began pushing for months ago.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee in Virginia's gubernatorial election next month, expressed frustration with the lack of progress from Democrats in Washington, telling The Associated Press that lawmakers and the president needed to "get their act together and vote."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said earlier in the week that the House should vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill to deliver a win for Biden and ensure Democrats like McAuliffe have something tangible to campaign on.

And John Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate change issues, told the AP in an interview that the administration's inability to get its climate priorities passed via the reconciliation bill hurts its ability to send a message to other countries about the need to take action to protect the environment.

"I'm not going to pretend it's the best way to send the best message. I mean, we need to do these things," Kerry said.

Democrats remain divided over how to proceed with Biden's agenda after the president traveled to the Capitol to tell the House Democratic Caucus that he wanted to see both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package passed but without weighing in on sequencing or timing.

Progressives have since dug in, arguing popular programs such as expanding Medicare coverage and fighting climate change should not be cut in order to appeal to just two moderate senators who have yet to get on board with the rest of the party.

"The time for us to be negotiating with ourselves is over," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters on a press call this past week.

The job of negotiating with Manchin and Sinema has largely fallen to Biden and White House officials. Biden has held numerous calls and in-person meetings with both senators in the past month, but Sinema's demands in particular remain unclear.

The lack of clear progress in winning their support for the reconciliation package has led to frustration among a growing number of Senate Democrats who are eager to move forward.

The pace has led some Democrats to question how much leverage Biden has given how entrenched the two sides are. One strategist close to the White House argued Biden lacks influence over progressives in the House who skew younger and are more ideologically driven.

Congressional leaders have laid out a timeline for getting both passed by the end of October, an ambitious goal given lawmakers have been on recess for the past week and Biden will be traveling to Europe at the end of the month for a meeting with the Pope and Group of 20 leaders.

Biden on Friday offered a dose of reality during remarks in Connecticut, conceding that the final reconciliation bill will not satisfy everyone in the party.

"We're not going to get $3.5 trillion. We'll get less than that," Biden said. "But we're going to get it. And we're going to come back and get the rest."