With clock ticking, Biden meets with progressives and moderates to secure his agenda
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she feels "optimistic" after a "really good, really productive" meeting at the White House with President Biden and fellow House progressives to discuss getting one of the administration's major policy priorities across the finish line.
"The president is the inspirer, he is the closer, he is the convincer, the mediator-in-chief," the Washington Democrat told reporters after the meeting. "He really is doing a phenomenal job."
The president's discussion with progressive lawmakers is just one of many meetings, including one with a bicameral group of centrist Democrats, he took Tuesday in an attempt to bridge the divide between moderate and progressive factions in the Democratic party over the size and scope of a sweeping social spending package.
The 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. Both Manchin and Sinema met with the president Tuesday morning.
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.
Jayapal told reporters after the meeting that the president is laying out a final number between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion.
"Look, it's not the number that we want. We have consistently tried to make it as high as possible," she said. "But at the end of the day, the idea that we can do these programs — a multitude of programs and actually get them going so that they deliver immediate transformational benefits to people is what we're focused on."
Jayapal has previously said that Manchin's proposed number of $1.5 trillion is too small for progressives to support and has made it clear that her caucus 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.
Asked why Biden was meeting with the factions separately, Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, said: "These are serious policy discussions, often on nitty gritty details, and they aren't duels between factions of the party."
As for the timeline, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday morning 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.