With Democrats still at odds over the size and scope of a sweeping social spending package, President Biden will attempt to help bridge the divide in a pair of meetings with moderate and progressive factions of the party.
The Tuesday afternoon meetings come less than two weeks ahead of a self-imposed Oct 31. deadline to pass Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes changes to the social safety net and major investments in climate and education.
The original price tag for the plan that Biden refers to as “human infrastructure” was $3.5 trillion. However, centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he can only support a package at $1.5 trillion. Another moderate Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also expressed concerns over the initial plan’s cost, but she has not publicly indicated what top number she would support. To pass the legislation, Democrats are using a process called budget reconciliation, which requires the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, meaning any one defection sinks the entire operation.
To that end, Democrats are trying to negotiate down the size of the original package to something closer to $2 trillion.
Both Manchin and Sinema met with the president Tuesday morning, ahead of his meeting with House Democrats.
“Our goal is to continue to make progress,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday. “And based on the morning meetings and our expectation of the afternoon meetings, we expect they will do exactly that.”
Biden, along with Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, will meet with nine House progressives Tuesday afternoon. The group of lawmakers comprises Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, and California Reps. Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee.
Biden also spoke with Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, on Monday. Jayapal has said $1.5 trillion is too small for progressives to support and has made it clear that progressives won’t move forward with a vote on the Senate-passed $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without an agreement on the larger social policy package first.
After the meeting with progressives, Biden will also meet with another set of concerned Democrats: a bicameral group of moderates. That group includes Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, California Reps. Ami Bera and Mike Thompson, Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, and Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran.
“These are serious policy discussions, often on nitty gritty details, and they aren’t duels between factions of the party,” Psaki said when asked why Biden is meeting with the groups separately.
On Tuesday morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters he is still committed to voting on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a reconciliation package by Oct. 31.
He said to get agreement on a scaled back package that can pass both the House and Senate, Democrats should do “fewer things better.” He declined to specify which policies should be included and which should be dropped, but said Democrats should focus on programs they can pay for and that can pass both chambers.
Hoyer noted Biden is “very engaged” with members to reach a compromise.