Democrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks
Democrats are eager to finish talks over President Biden’s sweeping spending bill, arguing the party is gaining little by dragging out negotiations.
The push to wrap things up quickly comes as months of haggling has led to pent-up frustrations that have dominated headlines and conversations around Capitol Hill. Democrats missed a self-imposed deadline of working out a framework by Friday, though talks continued into the weekend.
Even once Democrats lock in a framework, they’ll likely still have days of drafting and ironing out details. But after days of patience wearing increasingly thin, lawmakers are eager to take the first step and show that they and Biden can deliver on the massive spending package.
“It’s hurting Biden. It’s hurting the Democrats. It’s undermining the vision of all the accomplishments we will have as being highly significant. The frustration is people’s heads are blowing off. And they should be. It has to come to an end,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said during a recent interview with MSNBC.
He added, “I don’t know if soap opera or a nightmare soap opera is the right wording, but we’re in big trouble right now with this extended, getting nowhere negotiation.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that Democratic senators were willing to be “flexible” if it gets them to an agreement.
“I desperately want a compromise here. But the time is now to get this done,” he said.
Democrats have spent weeks stuck in high-profile feuds over everything from the price tag to the policy details of the sweeping social spending bill that is at the heart of their legislative agenda heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
That’s led to worries within the party that the sweep of the still-being-drafted legislation is being lost on voters. Democrats view the bill, which is expected to touch on everything from health care to child care to education and tax reform, as the most significant measure they’ve worked on in decades, but many Americans have heard more about the price tag and potential tax increases than the policy details.
Getting a framework would let the party pivot more fully to selling their prized measure to voters ahead of the critical elections.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who sparred privately with Sen. Manchin (D-W.Va.) — told reporters that a “vast majority” of Senate Democrats want to “act quickly.”
“Well, I think there is a growing understanding that the working families of this country want real change, that there have been quote unquote negotiations, month after month after month, and that it is now time to fish or cut bait,” Sanders said.
Senators have credited Democratic leadership, the White House and key lawmakers for working behind the scenes to make progress even as they jostled in public.
“As I think I told one of you, nothing’s happened the last 10 days. I think there’s been a lot happening the last 10 days, I just wasn’t aware of it. So I think we’re point that we can move pretty well,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
After appearing to be locked in a stalemate, Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other influential members hit the gas.
Democrats say they’ve made good progress, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters Friday that they were down into the “nitty gritty details” and were “getting closer” to a deal. Biden also met with Schumer and Manchin over the weekend.
But they are still working out divisions on some issues, including drug pricing negotiations, where the party ultimately comes down on expanding Medicare benefits, the climate change package and how the bill is paid for.
“More than 90 percent of everything is agreed to,” Pelosi told reporters.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that he wanted to bring both the spending bill and the infrastructure bill to the floor for a vote as soon as next week.
“In the Build Back Better plan and the BIF plan, which is a bipartisan bill on the Senate side, I hope to bring both of those bills to the floor next week if they’re ready,” Hoyer said, referring to the bipartisan infrastructure framework.
There are political benefits, in Democrats’ view, to getting a framework for the bill that puts them closer to passage.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is pushing for Democrats to quickly “put points on the board” by passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has been stuck in limbo, and letting Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) tout the legislation as a win in the final days of his race.
“If we don’t, we’ll pay the price in New Jersey and Virginia,” Warner added.
And Biden told moderates and progressives during two close-door White House meetings that he wants the climate provisions ironed out before he goes to a meeting in Scotland so that he can promote them at the event.
“He said, ‘The prestige of the United States is on the line. I need this to go represent the United States overseas. I need people to see that the Democratic Party is working, that the country is working, that we can govern,’” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told CNN.
Tester, who attended the meeting of moderates, added that Biden “absolutely” talked about how having the climate package worked out would help at the internal meeting and be an “accomplishment.”
“He talked about having this thing well on its way,” Tester said.
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