Democrats, White House scramble to cut deal to unlock infrastructure stalemate

Democrats and the White House are scrambling to reach a deal that would allow them to move forward with an infrastructure bill that has been stuck in limbo for much of Thursday. 

White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and senior adviser Brian Deese traveled to Capitol Hill, where they huddled in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office for hours.  

They then traveled to the Senate side of the Capitol, where they huddled in a basement office with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), two moderates at the heart of the intra-party fight over President Biden’s sweeping social spending bill.  

Democratic leadership and the White House are hoping that they can reach an agreement on a framework for the reconciliation bill that would convince House progressives to vote for the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Manchin has been skeptical of the potential to get a deal by Thursday for days, but told reporters ahead of the meeting that “anything is possible.”  

“I think everybody understands where everybody is,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also met with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been backchanneling with House progressives. 

Sanders, however, argued that there was little incentive for cutting a middle-of-the-night deal and that talks could continue next week. 

“It would be outrageous to think that somehow at 11 p.m., or 1 o’clock in the morning somebody is going to reach an agreement that nobody in the House knows anything about, nobody in the Senate knows anything about,” Sanders told reporters after the meeting.  

The House had been expected to vote on the Senate bill by Monday but Pelosi delayed that until Thursday to buy more time to get both sides of her caucus on the same page. 

But the week has been beset by high-profile infighting. Progressives are worried that if they pass the Senate bill moderates won’t help them pass the social spending bill that contains most of their priorities.

There’s also deep divisions on the top-line figure. Though Democrats passed a budget resolution earlier this year that allows for a bill of up to $3.5 trillion, Manchin said on Thursday that $1.5 trillion is as high as he’s willing to go. 

The dispatch of the White House staff to Capitol Hill comes after Pelosi huddled in her office on Thursday with three of her caucus’s major blocs: the Blue Dogs, the Progressive Caucus and the New Democrats. Each faction emerged asserting their previously held demands — the same entrenched dynamics that created the infrastructure impasse. 

After hours of behind-the-scenes haggling on Thursday, the House delayed votes until 9 p.m. Shortly before 9 p.m. lawmakers delayed votes until 10 p.m. 

In a letter to the Democratic caucus around 9:40 p.m. on Thursday, Pelosi said that discussions were ongoing but it had been a “day of progress” in trying to enact the president’s agenda. 

“Discussions continue with the House, Senate and White House to reach a bicameral framework agreement to Build Back Better through a reconciliation bill,” she wrote. 

But progressives are threatening to vote against the Senate bill if it is brought up without the reconciliation bill and appeared dug in.  

“Anything can happen. But if it happens it will go down, and I don’t believe it’s going to happen. … I have never seen our caucus so strong, and I am a very good whip counter also — maybe not quite as good as Nancy Pelosi sometimes, but I’m excellent. … We’re still at over a majority, and it keeps kind of growing,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Brian Deese Chuck Schumer Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Reconciliation Susan Rice

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