US Democrats seek deal on Biden’s $3.5-trillion social agenda

Democrats are struggling to bridge differences between two key centrist senators and a faction of House progressives.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late on Thursday that discussions were continuing with the House, Senate and White House [Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

White House officials and Democrats in the United States Congress are negotiating terms of a framework deal on President Joe Biden’s ambitious social and climate proposals as they seek to overcome a stalemate within their own party.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed a planned vote on a $1 trillion infrastructure bill late on Thursday as the party struggled to bridge differences between two key centrist Democratic senators and a faction of progressive House members.

The two sides appeared far apart, with conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin saying he would only agree to $1.5 trillion in spending, not Biden’s proposed $3.5-trillion investment over 10 years.

“We need a little bit more time. We’re getting that time in order to do it. We’re gonna come to an agreement,” Senator Manchin told reporters as he left the US Capitol after meeting with White House officials on Thursday night.

“I’m trying to make sure they understand that I’m at $1.5 trillion. I think $1.5 trillion does exactly the necessary things we need to do. It’ll take care of our children, It’ll take care of our people at the end of life, our seniors and we’re working hard on that,” said Manchin.

With the 100-seat US Senate divided equally between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, Democrats hold the narrowest of majorities; Vice President Kamala Harris casts a tie-breaking vote.

That means that without Republican support, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer needs complete unity from his caucus in order to pass Biden’s spending plan.

So far 48 Democratic senators support Biden’s proposal, but Manchin and fellow centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have balked at the size and scope of the investment.

Adding further pressure to the negotiations, a group of about 30 progressive Democrats in the 435-seat House have refused to allow a $1-trillion infrastructure bill to pass unless there is an ironclad deal reached with Manchin and Sinema to advance Biden’s agenda.

Biden held talks with lawmakers at the Capitol later on Friday in an unusual move for the president, who usually hosts Congress members at the White House. “We’re going to get it done,” Biden told reporters as he was leaving Capitol Hill.

Citing a Congress member, Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan said Biden had a “packed room” in the House of Representatives.

“It looks as if for the moment there’s simply more negotiating going on,” Jordan said. “This also of course involves a couple of very conservative members of Senate Democrats in the process. But for now, the talking still goes on, and these two key parts of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda have yet to be passed.”

White House officials, Brian Deese, director of the president’s National Economic Council, and Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, met behind closed doors with Manchin and Sinema at the Capitol on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Biden has been calling key senators and members of the House, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said.

Democratic holdout Senator Joe Manchin has proposed a $1.5-trillion spending package, $2 trillion less than United States President Joe Biden’s proposal [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

In a note to Democratic members on Thursday night, Pelosi cited “momentum” and called it a day of progress. “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.

A vote on the $1-trillion infrastructure bill was possible on Friday but appeared improbable with progressives still unhappy with Manchin’s $1.5-trillion offer on social and climate spending.

Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters outside Pelosi’s office that the progressives’ views were unchanged: they would not vote for one bill without the other and would stay all weekend to get a deal.

“Inaction is insanity,” said Minnesota’s Representative Ilhan Omar, the progressive caucus whip, who criticised Manchin’s position. “Trying to kill your party’s agenda is insanity. Not trying to make sure the president we all worked so hard to elect, his agenda pass, is insanity.”

While both sides are throwing around big numbers that amount to billions in annual spending, Biden has insisted the price tag actually will be zero because the expansion of government programmes would be largely paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies