Democratic patience runs out on bipartisan talks

Democratic tensions over infrastructure and the Biden agenda showed signs of boiling over Tuesday as one progressive lawmaker after another blasted a bipartisan framework negotiated by centrists in both parties.

The scaled-down agreement backed by a bipartisan group of 10 senators appears on life support days after it was announced, with progressives pressuring the White House to move on from bipartisan talks.

While Biden has repeatedly said he’d prefer a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, the two parties appear to be far apart over what the proper size of a package should be, or how to pay for it.

And progressives in both the Senate and House are losing patience with the process. Their ire has mostly been directed toward centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), but there is a danger for Biden that it will extend to the White House.

White House officials attending a House Democratic Caucus meeting said they intended to give more time to the push, but in a sign of the pressure to abandon such efforts, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that his caucus plans to move quickly on a budget resolution that could allow Democrats to move a package without GOP votes.

“Tomorrow I’m convening a meeting with all 11 Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee regarding a fiscal year ’22 budget resolution,” Schumer said.

The White House has found itself in a difficult position as it tries to handle two tracks of talks with President Biden in Europe over the past week.

It has sought to send the message that bipartisan talks will continue but not forever.

Steve Ricchetti, a top Biden adviser, and Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told House Democrats Tuesday that they would give Senate negotiators another seven to 10 days to finalize a deal.

That was quickly interpreted by House Democrats attending the meeting as a sign of a new hard deadline on the talks.

“They’re giving it a week or 10 days more and that’s about it,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said after the meeting. “And then we move along with reconciliation — for everything.”

Later, however, a White House spokesman said the seven-to-10-day timeline was not a hard deadline, suggesting some flexibility on Biden’s position.

Progressives have two chief worries about the bipartisan talks.

They have long seen such talks as an effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to run out the clock on Biden and any infrastructure package.

But maybe more importantly, they also think a bipartisan deal could threaten a larger package that would be moved on Democratic votes alone through budget reconciliation.

Progressives want to ensure that Manchin, Sinema and other moderate Democrats will vote for the reconciliation bill if it comes to the floor after a smaller bipartisan proposal.

Progressives led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) say they won’t vote for a stand-alone bipartisan infrastructure bill unless there’s also a deal reached with all 50 members of the Democratic caucus on the overall size of the reconciliation package and what it will include.

“I’m a ‘no’ on half a deal,” Warren said when asked about the $974 billion five-year bipartisan proposal unveiled last week. “We need a whole deal and a whole deal means there’s child care, there’s green energy and there’s a reform of the tax code that makes the rich and the powerful pay their fair share.”

Senate liberals also say their colleagues must agree in advance on specific details of the reconciliation package, including on climate change.

“If we’re looking at a deal on infrastructure going to the floor that does not have the energy investments in it and [for] which there has not been a deal worked out on reconciliation to have those energy investments, then absolutely not, I will not support the package,” Merkley said at a press conference Tuesday morning.

Schumer plans to pass a budget resolution in July, which will set the stage for a reconciliation vehicle that can be used to pass a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure investment package.

In a nod to the bipartisan talks, he also said he hopes to bring a scaled-down bipartisan infrastructure package to the floor next month, which would need 60 votes to pass under regular order before the Senate turns to moving a separate reconciliation package.

“Both are moving forward, the bipartisan track and the track on reconciliation, and both we hope to get done in July, both the budget resolution and the bipartisan bill,” Schumer said.

Markey said he would not vote for any bipartisan package in exchange for a mere promise that a reconciliation bill will make it to the Senate floor later in the year. He wants a guarantee that Manchin and Sinema will support the larger reconciliation measure.

Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee chairman, has said flatly he will not support the bipartisan infrastructure proposal because of what he says is a lack of “progressive” strategies for paying for it. He wants to raise taxes on wealthy Americans to address what he calls “massive” wealth and income equality — something that Republicans say is a dealbreaker.

Other progressives, including Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), say they also need a strong guarantee that there will be 50 votes for any major infrastructure bill that moves under budget reconciliation.

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Yarmuth Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell Sheldon Whitehouse Steve Ricchetti
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