President Joe Biden, tacitly siding with the majority of Democrats and progressives, told House Democrats on Friday to take the time necessary to find a deal on the budget reconciliation package, the large part of his human infrastructure package, but asked them to scale down from $3.5 trillion. That means also delaying a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan hard infrastructure bill—the bill Blue Dogs had been insisting must be passed immediately, despite the months-long commitment from leadership and the White House to move the bills together.
It was a solid rebuke of the centrist Democrats, who've been showing their bad faith in negotiations for several weeks now, trying to sabotage the larger spending bill that would address everything from universal pre-K education to climate change to reducing prescription drug prices and expanding Medicare services to seniors. They didn't get their way. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained in a letter to members over the weekend that "Out of respect for our colleagues who support the bills and out of recognition for the need for both, I would not bring [Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework] BIF to the Floor to fail." However, she wrote, "we will and must pass both bills soon."
The House has no legislative business scheduled for the next two weeks, but that doesn't mean it won't be working on a scaled-down reconciliation package to appease the two votes in the Senate that Biden lamented Friday. "We can bring the moderates and progressives together very easy if we had two more votes. Two. Two people," Biden said, suggesting he sees Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as the real obstacle to his agenda. However, "I'm telling you, we're going to get this done," he told reporters Friday. "It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We're going to get it done."
It won't be six weeks—the new deadline is Halloween—but it will still require getting those two Senate votes, a process neither of the two seem to want to make easier. Manchin has insisted on a $1.5 trillion limit, even though Democrats have a plan to fully pay for the bill. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who helped lead the Congressional Progressive Caucus in holding out against the Sabotage Squad of House centrists, rejected Manchin's ceiling in an appearance Sunday on CNN.
"That's not going to happen," she said of Manchin's threshold. "Because that's too small to get our priorities in. So, it's going to be somewhere between $1.5 and $3.5. And I think the White House is working on that right now, because, remember, what we want to deliver is child care, paid leave, climate change, housing." She followed up with an appearance on MSNBC. "Oh, we're going to get it all done," she said. "Every single member of my caucus has said we're going to vote for that bill as long as we get the reconciliation bill that has the rest of the very important priorities that the president laid out."
One option, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, said on CBS's Face the Nation, is to "fully fund what we can fully fund, but instead of funding it for 10 years, fund it for five years." Shortening the time frame for the programs would reduce the topline number without forcing cuts to programs. "The compromise and the options we have before us is, do we shorten our funding programs? Do you reduce the level of funding? Do you cut programs altogether?" Ocasio-Cortez said.
She reiterated that President Biden has been a "good-faith partner" to the full Democratic caucus. "The White House isn't making the demands to exclude universal child care or universal pre-K. This is coming from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party, but those are the conversations that we need to have because the thing is is that Washington math is notoriously funny, and you can make a $1 trillion bill into $2 trillion, you can make a $3 trillion bill that helps fewer people," she said. "That's why we really need to talk about the substance of this."
She also, relatively politely, called out the problem Democrats. "For quite some time, we have seen that some of these conservatives in the party, this is not about a team, it's about individual preferences, but that is OK," she said. "We're going to come together. I believe in the vision and commitment of our party for working people, and the thing is, we have to respect all families and all voters."
While Congress is officially on recess, these talks will take somewhat of a backburner to the Senate figuring out how to fix the major existing looming crisis: lifting the debt ceiling against Republican opposition. You'd think that Mitch McConnell and team being fully prepared to destroy the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury would be enough to make Sinema and Manchin decide to stop helping him sabotage the nation. So far, it hasn't.