Joe Biden met with Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders on Monday as Democratic lawmakers wrangled to find consensus on legislation designed to carry most of the president’s $4 trillion longer-term economic agenda.
“My job is to do everything I can to see the Senate comes forward with the strongest possible legislation to protect the needs of the working families of this country,” Sanders told reporters after meeting with Biden at the White House. “I think we are on the same page,” he said of Biden.
Senate Democrats remain divided on the size and scope of the fast-track budget reconciliation bill aimed to include a raft of social spending and tax hikes, according to a person familiar with the process. Sanders said he’s still fighting for his $6 trillion top-line number, well more than some moderates have supported.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Monday that the Senate Budget Committee “is close to finalizing a budget resolution.” But lingering disagreement could nonetheless complicate plans to pass a budget resolution in the House and Senate this month to set up the tax and social-spending bill later in the year.
Meantime, a bipartisan group of senators who sealed a tentative deal with Biden last month on the framework for a major infrastructure package -- another vital part of the administration’s agenda -- also has yet to nail down the details of that legislation, according to Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.
The continuing divisions on both tracks showcase the headwinds for Biden as he seeks approval in coming months of the biggest expansion in social spending and infrastructure development in decades.
“What we are trying to do is transformative -- the legislation that the president and I are supporting will go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s,” Sanders said Monday.
Senate Budget Committee Democrats, returning to Washington Monday after a recess, plan to meet soon to try to iron out their differences. Sanders had outlined a $6 trillion proposal covering Biden’s agenda as well as an expansion of Medicare, additional climate change items, immigration reform and a permanent extension of the child care tax credit.
But the Vermont independent must get agreement from moderates in the caucus to pass both the budget resolution and a follow-up reconciliation bill, which requires 50 votes for passage along with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.
‘Ready for It’
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked about the continuing disagreements among Democrats, said the White House will be actively engaged with Sanders and other Democrats in crafting the proposal.
“We expect there to be some significant ups and downs but we are ready for it -- we’re bracing for it,” Psaki said Monday.
First up for Sanders is persuading moderate Democrats on Sanders’s own committee, including Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Warner has indicated he’s more comfortable with a budget resolution that totals $3 trillion to $4 trillion.
If the bipartisan infrastructure package uses so-called dynamic scoring -- which counts on revenue gains from the anticipated faster growth that results from the bill -- to help pay for that bill, that should also be used for the social spending bill, Kaine told reporters Monday. He also said he wants as much as possible of that bigger bill paid for.
Portman, a key negotiator of the $579 billion infrastructure framework, said Monday that deal needs more work, with the Congressional Budget Office not on board with plans to pay for it. One example of the challenges: the CBO isn’t projecting as much revenue from stepped-up IRS enforcement as the senators had estimated.
“There are member-level decisions that need to be made” on the infrastructure bill, Portman said. “We still have a ways to go,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to finish the bill text this week.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said, “There are lots of issues that have to be addressed. We’re not going to get there today, and that’s what we’re going to be working on for the next few weeks.”
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