WASHINGTON (AP) – Determined not to let his $ 3.5 trillion government overhaul collapse, President Joe Biden cleared his schedule Thursday night and Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the House to an evening sitting then that the Democratic leaders were working to negotiate a scaled-down plan that the centrists would agree to.
An immediate risk was a promised vote, still possible Thursday night, on the first element of Biden’s proposal, a thinner $ 1,000 billion public works bill that is widely supported but failed amid stalled talks on its more ambitious package. Progressives refuse to support the roads and bridges bill they see as insufficient unless there is progress on Biden’s larger plan which is at the heart of the Democratic agenda. In the Restricted Chamber, Pelosi has little voice to spare.
Democrats strongly disagree and risk an embarrassing setback – if not the collapse of the entire company – if they cannot resolve the deadlock on Biden’s grand vision. After days of talks, those differences only deepened when Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced he was ready to go lower than the president wanted – $ 1.5 trillion – towards the larger package. Of the president.
With Biden working the phones and senior White House officials arriving at Pelosi’s office, they were trying to break the deadlock and save the president’s vision. The idea is to reach agreement on the outlines of Biden’s larger package, proceed with the $ 1 trillion public works bill, and negotiate the rest of Biden’s grand care bill. health, education and climate change in the days to come. Lawmakers have been urged to stick around for possible late-night votes.
All of this on a day that saw a partial victory for the Democrats, with the passage of Congress and the signing of the legislation by Biden to keep government past Thursday’s year-end deadline and avoid a federal shutdown that had been threatened by Republican blockades.
âStep by step,â Pelosi told Capitol Hill, suggesting a deal was within reach.
âThis is the path – it is not a fork in the road,â she said.
As Biden and his party aim for a giant legislative achievement – promising a vast rewrite of the country’s tax and spending plans with a slim majority in Congress – the political stakes could hardly be higher. Biden’s sweeping proposal would essentially raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and put that money back into government health care, education and other programs, all touching the lives of countless Americans.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki admitted that the process seemed messy from the outside, the âsausage-makingâ on Capitol Hill. But she said progress was being made.
The Public Works Bill is one part of Biden’s larger vision, a $ 1 trillion investment in routine transportation, broadband, water supply systems and other supported projects. through additional funding. He gained bipartisan support in the Senate, but is now trapped by the larger debate.
Attention remains squarely focused on West Virginia Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, centrist Democrats who helped push through this bipartisan bill but fear Biden’s comprehensive bill is too important . They infuriated their colleagues by not making any counterproposals public.
Under surveillance, Manchin called an impromptu press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, insisting he had been clear from the start.
“I’m ready to sit down and work on the $ 1.5,” Manchin told reporters, as protesters searched for a bigger package and Biden’s priorities chanted behind him.
Manchin said he told the president the same during their talks this week, and confirmed he put his point on paper in earlier talks this summer with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. .
It’s not just Manchin’s demands to reduce the overall size, but the conditions he wants to impose on new spending that will annoy his more liberal colleagues as he strives to ensure that aid only goes to low-income people, rather than larger groups of Americans. Tensions increased on Wednesday night when Manchin sent out a fiery statement denouncing the general spending as “fiscal madness.”
Sinema also tried to avoid criticism, and her office said claims that she had not come forward were “false” – although she did not publicly disclose her views on how tall she was. the packaging she wants and refused to answer questions about her position.
Sinema has put dollar numbers on the table and “continues to engage directly in good faith discussions” with Biden and Schumer, spokesman John LaBombard said in a statement.
The refusal of centrist senators to close negotiations with Biden enraged progressive lawmakers and almost ensured they would defeat the bipartisan public works bill if there was no end in sight for the talks at the White House.
With Democrats’ campaign promises at stake, Congressional Progressive Caucus chairperson Rep. Pramila Jayapal said as she stepped out of Pelosi’s office that the views of the progressives were unchanged – they will not vote for a bill without it. other and would stay all weekend to get a deal.
“Inaction is madness,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Another progressive leader, clearly underlining her criticisms of Manchin’s remarks.
âTrying to kill your party’s agenda is madness. Not trying to make sure that the president we all worked so hard to elect, get his platform passed, is foolishness. “
Amid a growing party division, centrists warned against canceling Thursday’s vote as “a lack of confidence that would slow the momentum to move forward with the implementation of the Biden agenda.” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the centrist Blue party. Democratic dogs.
At the same time, Congress mainly addressed a more immediate crisis that arose after Republicans refused to approve legislation to maintain government funding beyond Thursday’s fiscal year-end and increase the country’s debt limit to avoid dangerous default on loans.
The Senate voted Thursday to provide government funding to avoid a federal shutdown, maintaining operations temporarily until Dec. 3. The House quickly followed suit and Biden signed the bill on Thursday night.
The debt ceiling debate moves to October, before another deadline when the Treasury Department warned that money would be used up to pay past bills.
With Republicans opposed to the president’s grand plan, ridiculing it as a slide into socialist-style spending, Biden is looking to strike a deal with members of his own party for a signature legislative achievement.
Together, Sens. Manchin and Sinema hold the keys to unlocking the deadlock on Biden’s bigger picture, the heart of his 2020 campaign pledges, but they part ways over details, according to a person familiar with the private interviews and who has granted anonymity to talk about it.
Manchin seems to have fewer questions on the income side of the equation – higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – than on spending plans and particular policies, especially those related to climate change that are important to his state. focused on charcoal.
Sinema focuses its questions on the menu of tax options, including raising the corporate tax rate that some in the business world believe could make the United States less competitive abroad and the individual rate that , according to others, could trap small business owners.
Biden insists the price will actually be zero, as the expansion of government programs would be largely funded by higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – with companies making more than $ 5 million a year and individuals earning more than $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples.
Associated Press editors Mary Clare Jalonick, Brian Slodysko, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.