Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan

Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan
© Julia Nikhinson - Greg Nash

Democrats are already skeptical that they’ll be able to hit new deadlines for getting a sweeping two-part spending package to President BidenJoe BidenHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room MORE’s desk as they ramp up haggling over deep divisions. 

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJudge to hear Trump's case against Jan. 6 committee in November Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech GOP lawmaker calls for Meghan, Harry to lose royal titles over paid leave push MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocratic frustration with Sinema rises Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control MORE (D-N.Y.) have pointed to the end of the month for getting both a stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill and still-being-negotiated social spending bill through Congress. 

While Democrats feel like they’ve made some progress, they still need to land on an overall price tag and are facing increasingly public jockeying as members elbow to make sure their priorities remain in a slimmed down bill. 

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“I think it’s going to be very difficult to get it done by then,” said Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinIt's time to make access to quality kidney care accessible and equitable for all Charity game lets users bet on elections Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program MORE (D-Md.). “The drafting is going to take some time.” 

The push to get both the bipartisan infrastructure deal, which has already passed the Senate, and a Democratic-only spending bill to Biden’s desk by the end of October comes after Congress passed a one-month short-term extension of federal highway programs. 

Approving the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill by then would prevent the need for another short-term highway extension. And the timing of the Senate bill is tied to the sweeping spending proposal because progressives have threatened to tank the Senate bill if it comes up on its own. 

“I do think him setting a deadline helped us get the infrastructure deadline, so it’s probably smart,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBiden injects new momentum into filibuster fight Democratic frustration with Sinema rises Harris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia MORE (D-Va.), referring to Schumer. 

But Democratic senators are hanging back from embracing the new timeline, arguing that the details of the bill are more important than the time frame.

“We’re going to get these two bills done when they get done,” said Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Democrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision MORE (D-Hawaii). “It’s going to take a while.” 

Asked about the October deadline, Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Biden seeks to quell concerns over climate proposals MORE (D-W.Va.) added: “There’s no rush on timing. Let’s just do it and do it right.”

It’s hardly the first deadline Democrats have set, and missed, as they try to find unity on the path forward on the two-part spending package. 

Pelosi and a group of House moderates agreed to a Sept. 27 date to hold a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill. But they pushed and then missed that deadline amid a stalemate in the House and Biden telling reporters that it “doesn’t matter” when the two bills pass and that Democrats are “going to get it done.” 

That enraged moderates, who argued that leadership broke their promises or committed to contradictory things. 

“A small far-left faction of the House of Representatives undermined that agreement and blocked a critical vote on the president’s historic bipartisan infrastructure bill,” said Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerModerates split over climate plans in Democrats' spending package Bleak midterm outlook shadows bitter Democratic battle Democrats downplay deadlines on Biden's broad spending plan MORE (D-N.J.). 

Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBiden injects new momentum into filibuster fight On The Money — Democrats confident cuts won't water down bill Sinema's office outlines opposition to tax rate hikes MORE (D-Ariz.), who helped lead talks on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, accused Democratic leadership of making “conflicting promises that could not all be kept.” 

Progressives, however, viewed the deadline as arbitrary. 

Asked about the new end-of-the-month deadline, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats Democrats struggle to sell Biden plan amid feuding MORE (D-Conn.), “I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t get it done.”

“That was a deadline that was created by a handful of rank-and-file House members. I think it’s different when the leaders ... are creating deadlines,” he added. 

Democrats are still recalibrating after last week’s setback in the House as they try to figure out where they will land on a top-line figure. 

Manchin, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, stood by $1.5 trillion being his top line for a deal and raised concerns about the country becoming an “entitlement society.” 

“There’s been a lot of speculation about ‘what number on reconciliation.’ My number’s been $1.5 [trillion]. I’ve been very clear,” Manchin said. 

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But progressives see Manchin’s number as a non-starter. 

Underscoring the tensions ahead for Democrats, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Study finds Pfizer vaccine almost 91 percent effective for 5 to 11 year olds The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (I-Vt.) convened a press conference on Wednesday to fire back at Manchin, arguing his moderate colleague needed to be more specific about what he wants or doesn’t want. 

“The time is long overdue for him to tell us with specificity, not generalities, we’re beyond generalities ... what he wants and what he does not want, and explain that to the people of West Virginia,” Sanders told reporters.  

Sanders offered similar advice to Sinema: “Tell us what you want.” 

Both Manchin and Sinema have said they can’t support a bill of $3.5 trillion. But they’ve taken totally different approaches to negotiating. Manchin frequently gaggles with reporters, where he gets peppered with questions about what he’s looking for in the spending fight, while Sinema doesn’t engage with reporters in Capitol hallways, making her harder to decipher. 

Even once Democrats work out a top-line figure, which would be a significant step forward, they still need to work out details on the various programs they want to include in the spending bill. They are hoping the legislation can carry a laundry list of top priorities including new child care and education benefits, changes to the tax code, expansion of health care and efforts to combat climate change. 

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But as the price tag for the bill shrinks, Democrats will need to make decisions about if they try to take incremental steps in a greater number of programs or invest heavily in a few ideas and cut the rest. 

“We don’t know if they’re going to knock them out or scale them down,” Cardin said. “I’m not sure if some programs can survive depending on the top-line number, and then if that program doesn’t survive, it affects our attitude on some of the other programs.” 

White House officials met with Senate Democrats on Wednesday morning to discuss the sweeping spending bill. 

But Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Manchin, Sanders to seek deal on Biden agenda Democrats struggle to gain steam on Biden spending plan MORE (D-Pa.) said they didn’t get into the tradeoff or which way Democrats should come down. 

“This was not a negotiation session,” Casey said. “It just wasn’t that kind of conversation about mechanics.”