Trouble in Paradise? Democrats Still Squabbling Over Biden Agenda
Despite managing to continue funding of the US government through early December by the skin of its teeth, the US Congress is yet to make up its mind on two major pieces of legislation that constitute the core of Biden’s "Build Back Better" agenda – and it might be problematic due to the continuing disagreements within the Democratic Party.
Congressional Democrats are struggling to find common ground on President Joe Biden's agenda as the party's moderate and progressive factions failed to reach an agreement on 30 September.
Leaving the US Capitol on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that "We'll vote today" - a promise very similar to those she made earlier in the month and failed to fulfil.
Stumbling blocks on the path to what the Democrats see as a cornerstone of the Biden agenda have arisen the moderates push for a House vote this week to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, while progressives are reluctant to unify with their fellow lawmakers, insisting that a larger $3.5 billion reconciliation bill should be passed first.
"As I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question – how much is enough?" Senator Joe Manchin said on Wednesday following yet another round of fruitless reconciliation negotiations.
Manchin, who appears to be one of the most outstanding opponents of the infrastructure bill, said that he would not support a package over $1.5 trillion
. He received support from another moderate, Senator Kirsten Sinema, who in her Thursday statement reiterated her refusal to support a bill costing $3.5 billion, but noted that she remains in negotiations with President Biden and the progressive Democrats in order to find common ground.
Now that the Democratic Party is split over Biden's agenda, the president and his aides are struggling to find what kind of a narrower proposal could unite it, according to a report by Reuters, citing people familiar with the situation.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, however, remains optimistic: despite conceding that "we are not there yet", she assured that the Democrats are "closer to an agreement than ever".
According to Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, there is a total of four percent of Democrats in the House and Senate who refuse to back the infrastructure bill unless the larger proposal - that also includes climate action and social welfare - goes forward.
"If I had to bet, I would say there's not going to be a vote tonight", Jayapal told CNN on Thursday. "There’s just not the votes there".
In situations like this - when there are not enough votes for legislation to be passed - House Speaker Pelosi said last month that she never brings a bill to the floor
But progressives do not seem like they are ready to give up, since many of them celebrated the delay of the infrastructure bill vote, launching a social media hashtag #HoldTheLine, insisting that the bill will be passed, but it needs to be done "right".
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even expressed her position in a video, adamant in her stance to reject the notion that "something is better than nothing". In an apparent reference to Manchin's position, she told ABC News on Thursday that "some of our Senate colleagues are all over the place".
Confidence in the bill getting passed is there, according to some lawmakers, but it all appears to be about timing.
“There’s a sense of optimism about ‘we’ll get there’, but the point of frustration and lack of clarity is: How soon", Democratic Senator Tim Kaine said. “I encouraged everybody: ‘The time is now for a deal’”.
In a bid to push the Biden agenda through the House and the Senate, Democrats can predictably only count on themselves, with Republican lawmakers, unlike the Dems, unified in their opposition to Biden's spending proposals.
The Congress is not enjoying the best of times now, having barely prevented a government shutdown
. A resolution to fund the government until early December was signed by Biden earlier on Thursday, also providing money for states to recover from natural disasters and to resettle Afghan refugees. However, the bill did not envisage raising the US debt ceiling - something that was also proposed by the Democrats, but received strong opposition from their GOP counterparts.