Despite setback, Democrats try to save Biden’s $ 3.5 billion plan

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Despite a long night of frantic negotiations, Democrats were unable to reach an immediate deal to save President Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion government overhaul, forcing leaders to reverse promised votes on a related public works bill. Action is scheduled to resume on Friday.

President Nancy Pelosi had pushed the House into an evening sitting and top White House advisers gathered for talks on Capitol Hill as Democratic leaders worked Thursday night to negotiate a scaled-down plan that centrist refractories would agree to. Biden had cleared his schedule for calls with lawmakers, but it seemed like no deal was close at hand, especially with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

Manchin refused to budge, the West Virginia centrist sticking to his earlier statement that he was ready to meet the president less than halfway – $ 1.5 trillion.

“I don’t see an agreement tonight. I’m really not doing it, ”Manchin told reporters as he left the Capitol.

Deeply at odds, the president and his party face a potentially embarrassing setback – even a politically devastating corporate-wide collapse – if they cannot resolve the deadlock on Biden’s grand vision.

An immediate risk was a promised vote on the first element of Biden’s proposal, a thinner $ 1 trillion public works bill that is widely supported but failed amid stalled talks over its larger package. ambitious. Progressives refused to support the roads and bridges bill they saw as insufficient unless there was progress on Biden’s larger plan which is at the heart of the Democratic agenda. With the backing, the leaders overturned a promised vote on Thursday evening and said the House would resume its sessions on Friday,

Pelosi called it a “day of progress” in a letter to colleagues, but offered few other words on the way forward.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement saying: “Much progress has been made this week, and we are closer than ever to a deal. But we’re not there yet, so we’ll need a little more time to finish the job, starting early tomorrow morning.

The political stakes could hardly be higher. Biden and his party are aiming for a giant legislative achievement – promising a vast rewrite of the country’s tax and spending plans – with such a slim majority in Congress.

The president’s sweeping $ 3.5 trillion proposal would essentially raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and put that money back into government programs for health care, education and more, all affecting the lives of countless Americans. He says the ultimate price is zero because tax revenue covers expenses.

With Biden working the phones and senior White House officials commuting to Capitol Hill, talks swirled over Democratic leaders trying to break the deadlock by reaching a broader deal, a compromise with Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, two centrist Democrats who are the backbone of Biden’s goals.

The idea was to produce the outlines of a deal on Biden’s larger package, proceed with the $ 1,000 billion public works bill, and negotiate the rest of Biden’s big bill on public works. health care, education and climate change in the days to come. Lawmakers have been urged to stick around for possible late-night votes.

But as the night dragged on, it became clear that Manchin disagreed with a higher number and that chiseling that $ 3.5 trillion in revenue risked losing executives. Progressives who said they had compromised enough already and saw no reason to rush a deal to bring the centrists around to support the president’s agenda.

“We fought for transformative legislation, as you all know these discussions continued month after month after month,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chairman of the budget committee and one major progressive lawmakers. . “It’s not a baseball game. It is the most important law for 70 years.

All of this on a day that saw a partial victory for Democrats, with Congress passing and Biden signing legislation to keep government past Thursday’s fiscal year deadline and avoid a shutdown federal government which had been threatened by the Republican blockades.

The Public Works Bill is one part of Biden’s larger vision, a $ 1 trillion investment in routine transportation, broadband, water supply systems and other supported projects. through additional funding. He gained bipartisan support in the Senate, but is now trapped by the larger debate.

Attention remains squarely on Manchin and Sinema, two centrist Democrats who helped push through this bipartisan bill but fear Biden’s comprehensive bill is too important. The two senators infuriated their colleagues by not making any counter-proposal public.

Under surveillance, Manchin called an impromptu press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, insisting he had been clear from the start.

“I’m ready to sit down and work on the $ 1.5,” Manchin told reporters, as protesters searched for a bigger package and Biden’s priorities chanted behind him.

Manchin said he told the president the same during their talks this week, and confirmed he put his point on paper in previous talks this summer with Schumer.

It’s not just Manchin’s demands to reduce the overall size, but the conditions he wants to impose on new spending that will annoy his more liberal colleagues as he strives to ensure that aid only goes to low-income people, rather than larger groups of Americans. Tensions increased on Wednesday night when Manchin sent out a fiery statement denouncing the general spending as “fiscal madness.”

Sinema also tried to avoid criticism, and her office said claims that she had not come forward were “false” – although she did not publicly disclose her views on how tall she was. the packaging she wants and refused to answer questions about her position.

Sinema has put dollar numbers on the table and “continues to engage directly in good faith discussions” with Biden and Schumer, spokesman John LaBombard said in a statement.

With Democrats’ campaign promises at stake, Congressional Progressive Caucus chairperson Rep. Pramila Jayapal said as she stepped out of Pelosi’s office that the views of the progressives were unchanged – they will not vote for a bill without it. other and would stay all weekend to get a deal.

“Inaction is madness,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Another progressive leader, clearly underlining her criticisms of Manchin’s remarks.

“Trying to kill your party’s agenda is madness. Not trying to make sure that the president we all worked so hard to elect, get his platform passed, is foolishness. “

Centrists cautioned against canceling Thursday’s vote as “a lack of confidence that would slow the momentum to move forward with the implementation of the Biden agenda,” said Representative Stephanie Murphy, D -Fla., Leader of the centrist Democrats Blue Dog.

At the same time, Congress mainly addressed a more immediate crisis by passing legislation to provide government funding and avoid a federal shutdown, maintaining operations temporarily through December 3. The House quickly followed suit and Biden signed the bill on Thursday night.

With Republicans opposed to the president’s grand plan, ridiculing it as a slide into socialist-style spending, Biden is looking to strike a deal with members of his own party for a signature legislative achievement.

Biden insists the price will actually be zero, as the expansion of government programs would be largely funded by higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – with companies making more than $ 5 million a year and individuals earning more than $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples.

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Associated Press editors Mary Clare Jalonick, Brian Slodysko, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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