Democrats confident their plans are coming together
President Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill Wednesday, his first visit to the Senate Democratic lunch since his election, was hailed by lawmakers as an early celebration of the progress his infrastructure agenda is making in Congress.
The Democratic negotiators in a bipartisan group of 22 senators believe they will hold Republican support for a scaled-down $1.2 trillion, eight-year infrastructure framework, which gives it a good chance of passing before the August recess.
And Democrats believe their caucus is starting to coalesce around a budget deal that would spend another $3.5 trillion on Biden’s expansive agenda, including proposals to fund long-term home health care, expand child care services, expand Medicare and reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
With a sense of having a political wind at their backs, Democrats were in a celebratory mood when they greeted Biden for his first official visit to the Senate Wednesday in the chamber’s ornate Mansfield Room.
Biden exuded confidence as he walked past reporters to the meeting, joking about his “homecoming” after previously serving 36 years in the Senate and then declaring: “We’re going to get this done.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) brimmed with enthusiasm as he walked next to the president, exclaiming in affirmation: “We are getting this done,” while pumping his fist.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) described the lunch meeting with Biden as “both a celebration and a reminder of how much hard work lies ahead.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), careful not to jinx the good progress, cautioned that he and his colleagues are aware that things can fall apart suddenly but signaled so far, so good.
“Each step of the way is perilous and could end the whole effort, but we’ve managed to come up with a bipartisan agreement between the White House and the senators on the infrastructure bill. I think it’s done, I think it will be finalized and written in the next few days,” he said.
“Then we had the Budget Committee come forward with their proposal. That will lead to a budget resolution on the floor and we’ve got to succeed there and then following that is the whole reconciliation process that brings us back to the floor for another 50 hours,” he added. “So yes, in a way we celebrated, but we realize we haven’t reached our goal.”
Senate Democratic centrists seem willing to back the $3.5 trillion budget deal, which Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a prominent moderate and member of the Budget panel, says will be fully paid for with yet-to-be-specified tax increases and other revenue-raisers.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, said he’s open to the budget deal, although he has yet to promise to vote to proceed to the budget resolution when it comes to the floor.
Manchin said he wants to review the details of the deal carefully and expressed wariness about raising corporate taxes so much that it might hurt the competitiveness of U.S.-based companies with foreign competitors.
Still, Manchin said he’s “open” to the deal, giving Democrats hope that he’ll back the budget resolution when it comes to the floor after the Senate is expected to debate and vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package later this month.
During the lunch meeting with Biden, Manchin raised concerns about inflation and the administration’s plans to move the nation’s economy away from relying so much on fossil fuels, which emit tons of carbon into the atmosphere and exacerbate climate change.
Manchin also complained about inflation in his home state, which ranks last or second to last in the country in median household income, according to various lists.
“I said I’m concerned about inflation and I said I want to see more of the details of what’s going on,” he told reporters after the lunch. “I’m concerned also about maintaining the energy independence the United States of America has and with that you cannot be moving toward eliminating the fossil [fuel].”
But Democratic senators in the room took Manchin’s statements as an expression of his desire to be involved in negotiations over the energy provisions as well as the funding sources in the sprawling reconciliation bill, which could cost $3.5 trillion.
The reconciliation bill, which will have detailed legislative provisions, is expected to come to the Senate floor sometime in the fall. The budget resolution, which needs to pass to set the stage for reconciliation, is expected to include only a broad plan on spending priorities, top-line spending numbers and top-line revenue numbers to offset the cost.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said after the meeting: “I am optimistic. It’s been a tough week of hard work but I’m optimistic.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Schumer and Warner presented a briefing to colleagues at the meeting about their budget deal.
Biden urged Democratic senators at Wednesday’s meeting to stay unified and kept the discussion focused on his belief that tens of millions of Americans would be helped by his agenda.
They largely stayed away from the more difficult discussion about detailed spending targets or what specific tax reforms would be made and how much those various proposals would raise to offset the $3.5 trillion price tag.
One senator in the room said there was a fair amount of discussion about how Biden’s plan to increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals earning more than $400,000 in annual income, two groups that benefited from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is popular in the polls.
“There was talk about taxing and how popular taxing the wealthy and corporations,” said the lawmaker.
In another important development Wednesday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another key centrist, said he would vote for the motion to proceed to the budget resolution.
“I’m going to vote to proceed on the $3.5 [trillion], then we’ve got to get more meat on the bones on how it’s being spent,” he said.
Tester, a member of a bipartisan group of 22 senators involved in negotiations, said Wednesday afternoon he expects Republican support for the bipartisan infrastructure deal to stay firm.
“I think things are coming together,” he said.
A Republican member of the group also expressed optimism.
“I was in the meeting [Tuesday] and I was generally pleased with what I saw and I heard. Republicans and Democrats were working together. There wasn’t any clash or difficult or partisan issue. There are some differences still, but I think it’s headed in the right direction,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
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