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Rep. James Clyburn speaks at a news conference

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) speaks at a news conference on September 17, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Rashida Tlaib Corrects Jim Clyburn: '$3.5 Trillion Is the Floor'

Remarks by the prominent South Carolina Democrat, warned one observer, "could easily ruin negotiations and imperil" the party's reconciliation agenda.

Jake Johnson

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan pushed back late Wednesday after fellow Rep. Jim Clyburn—the third-ranking Democrat in the House—said that $3.5 trillion was not the "floor" but rather the "ceiling" for the emerging budget reconciliation package, a position that puts him firmly at odds with many members of his own party.

In an appearance on CNN, Clyburn (D-S.C.) falsely claimed that "no one has ever said" the popular $3.5 trillion figure represents the floor for reconciliation negotiations. In recent days, as Common Dreams has reported, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and other prominent progressives have publicly made clear that $3.5 trillion is already a compromise and that they will not approve of anything less.

Tlaib, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, reiterated that stance in response to Clyburn's remarks, declaring on Twitter: "$3.5 trillion is the floor."

During his CNN interview, Clyburn invoked new reports that conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—a key swing vote—won't support a reconciliation package any larger than $1.5 trillion, potentially endangering the legislation's prospects in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.

"Somewhere between $1.5 and $3.5 there is $2 trillion," Clyburn said. "Those $2 trillion are there. And I think that there's a lot of room for people to sit down and negotiate. It may be that when you're sitting around the table, you may not need $3.5 trillion to do what the president wants done and what the country needs done. But let's work on it and stay out of all this negotiating in the media."

Observers warned that Clyburn's public intervention in the ongoing reconciliation talks could be highly damaging to Democrats' efforts to secure as much climate and safety-net funding as possible in the package, which represents a centerpiece of President Joe Biden's domestic policy agenda.

"Clyburn may be a political kingmaker, but with legislation he's a reverse King Midas," tweeted David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect. "This could easily ruin negotiations and imperil the agenda."

The South Carolina Democrat's comments came shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday that while she doesn't "know what the number will be" once negotiations end, Democratic committees are moving ahead with legislative mark-ups at the $3.5 trillion level—the outer boundary set by a recently approved budget resolution.

"We will pay for more than half, maybe all of the legislation," Pelosi said, referring to the tax hikes on wealthy individuals and large corporations that Democrats are planning to enact in order to offset new spending on healthcare, paid leave, green energy, immigration reform, and other priorities.

To those advocating for a lower price tag, Pelosi asked: "Where would you cut? Child care? Family medical leave paid for? Universal pre-K? Home healthcare?"

Earlier this week, Jayapal—the chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus—told the Washington Post that in her view "there is no flexibility on the price tag."

"And it's not because I care about what the top line is. It's because I care about delivering on these benefits," said Jayapal. "If we don't deliver, then I think all of the people who came out and voted for Democrats to take control of the House, the Senate, and the White House are going to come out and say, 'that's it.'"

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