Searching for a way forward on his legacy bills, President Joe Biden held a meeting Wednesday at the White House with centrist and progressive Democrats from both chambers.
It included progressive leaders such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington State and Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Centrist Democrats included, among others, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida and, of course, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The biggest news coming out of that meeting was the fact that the president asked centrists to name their price on the $3.5 trillion budget bill, which will have to be passed along party lines.
“He just basically said find a number you’re comfortable with,” Manchin said, according to The Hill. Biden’s message was, “Please just work on it. Give me a number,” added Manchin.
Another way of putting Biden's question is: What programs would you cut? Saving the planet? Providing Americans with affordable health care, child care, and prescription drugs?
As Jayapal, who leads the 100-member progressive caucus, told NPR, “If there’s something that somebody wants to cut out from those priorities, then they need to let us know."
By Thursday, Manchin had obviously done some deep thinking about that question. Asked by reporters if he was getting closer to knowing his bottom line, Manchin said he was still trying to figure out "what the need is."
Gee, not like Manchin didn't know weeks ago this would all come down to him finally detailing his ongoing nonspecific objections.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York announced that the White House and Senate Democrats had coalesced around a "framework" for the revenue side of the $3.5 trillion budget bill. In other words, they had some clarity around where they would raise taxes in order to fund the Build Back Better bill.
Manchin also pooh-poohed that idea to reporters.
"We don't know what they're taking about," he said.
Thanks for nothing, Joe.
Manchin aside, the goal coming out of the White House meeting was for centrists and progressives to try to come to an agreement on priorities by as early as next week.
"I think it would be great to have a framework on Monday, and I think the president would agree with that," said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a moderate who also attended the meeting with Biden.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's ideal, according to Punchbowl News, is also to pound out a compromise framework by Monday—though that’s certainly a tall order.
Monday is also the day by which Pelosi promised House centrists a vote on the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill. Following her weekly press conference Thursday, the speaker was noncommittal about the timing of that vote with journalist Jake Sherman.
Pelosi is clearly walking a line in her caucus between centrists, who want the Monday vote, and progressives, who are hoping to buy a bit more time for coming to an agreement on the Democrats-only budget bill.
“We’re saying, let’s get this done,” Jayapal said. “We need a little bit more time, just maybe two weeks, three weeks, but we can do this.”
In an MSNBC interview Thursday, Jayapal did offer at least one potential path forward on scaling down the overall size of the $3.5 trillion investment: Instead of cutting programs, she said she would prefer to fund everything but for a shorter time period in some cases to cut back on costs.
"I would rather make sure that we shorten the timeframe," Jayapal explained. "Let Americans see that we're getting the benefits out immediately and see how their life changes."
The hope is that once voters see how much these investments improve their lives, the political pressure to continue the programs will motivate lawmakers to extend them.
"I think Americans will realize, No, we don't want to give this up," she added.
Despite a series of obstacles that need to be overcome on the tightest of deadlines, Pelosi said Thursday she was "confident" Democrats would deliver on both bills—the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrats-only human infrastructure bill.
"It always happens the same way—all this bluster and this and that," Pelosi said, waving around her arms. "But at the end of the day, we will be unified for the American people.”