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Bernie Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks to the media outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 12, 2021, after attending a meeting with President Joe Biden. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanders, Top Dems Optimistic Party Will 'Come Together' for Reconciliation Package

However, House leaders warn they may miss a September 27 deadline to consider Senate-approved infrastructure legislation that progressives will only support alongside a $3.5 trillion bill.

Jessica Corbett

In a series of Sunday television appearances, key congressional leaders seemed optimistic that the Democratic caucuses of both chambers would join forces to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a Build Back Better package to advance President Joe Biden's agenda—even if it requires missing a rapidly approaching deadline.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in order to advance the budget resolution for the broader package last month, struck a deal with a small group of right-wing Democrats that the chamber would "consider" the bipartisan bill by September 27, which is a week from Monday.

Progressives in the House have made clear that they won't back the infrastructure bill unless Congress simultaneously passes a $3.5 trillion package for social and climate programs. Passing that package through the budget reconciliation process allows Democrats to avoid a GOP filibuster in the Senate but forces them to follow certain rules and get full caucus support.

Asked on "Face the Nation" Sunday whether the package's $3.5 trillion price tag may come down to secure support from right-wingers such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) indicated that was not an option.

"We're going to have to work it out, as we did with the American Rescue Plan. But I have already made, and my colleagues have made, a major compromise," Sanders told CBS' Margaret Brennan, noting that he initially fought for an investment of at least $6 trillion over a decade.

Emphasizing that "$3.5 trillion is much too low," and "a compromise has already been made," Sanders called on his colleagues to pass the package for the American public—which, as he pointed out, broadly supports Democrats' spending plans, according to recent polling.

"Now is the time to stand up to powerful special interests. Now is the time to start representing working families," said Sanders, who predicted that "because of the pressure of the American people we're going to come together again and do what has to be done."

While sharing Sanders' prediction that Democrats will ultimately pass a reconciliation package, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested during a Sunday appearance on "State of the Union" that they may not do so by their own deadline.

"There's always a possibility that the vote would get delayed, but the question is: 'Are we going to work to get to our goal for September 27?' Yes, we are going to work hard to reach that goal, and sometimes you have to kind of stop the clock to get to the goal. We'll do what's necessary to get there," Clyburn told CNN's Jake Tapper.

Addressing the debate over the reconciliation package's price tag, Clyburn said that "we ought to stop focusing on the number and start looking at what needs to be done."

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chair of the House Budget Committee, echoed Clyburn's comments on "Fox News Sunday," telling Chris Wallace that "we're not really focused on the top line of spending" but also "I suspect it will be somewhat less than $3.5 trillion."

"What we're focused on is the fact that these are things that we absolutely have to do as country," Yarmuth said. "These are not frivolous matters. We have a desperate deficiency in the social infrastructure in this country, access to affordable child care, the absence of early childhood education, [and] the infrastructure for senior care."

The congressman also said that while the current plan is to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Pelosi's deadline, under the House rules, even if the chamber passes the Senate-approved legislation, Pelosi does not have to immediately send it to the president for signature, so "there's some flexibility in terms of how we mesh the two… mandates."

Yarmuth also predicted that for the reconciliation package, "we're probably going to slip past the September 27th date, sometime into… early October would be my best guess."

Democrats are still working out the details of several parts of the sweeping reconciliation package, set to include major policies on child care, climate, education, immigration, Medicare expansion and drug pricing, and taxation—with ongoing debates about deductions for state and local taxes as well as tax hikes for rich corporations and individuals.

The New York Times' Jim Tankersley reported Saturday that "no president has ever packed as much of his agenda, domestic and foreign, into a single piece of legislation as President Biden has with the $3.5 trillion spending plan that Democrats are trying to wrangle through Congress."

Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, highlighted how much is at stake for Biden and Democrats in Congress pushing to pass a bold reconciliation bill in the weeks ahead.

"If the bill passes as is right now and we get a major sea change in the progressivity of the tax code, we build a serious infrastructure for, like, universal child care in this country, and we really, really sort of start to make progress toward a green economy, this is going to be a historic piece of legislation," Owens told Tankersley.

However, if it gets watered down, Biden risks "a situation in which we didn't spend enough money on any piece to do it well," she warned. "You don't want half a child care system and a little bit of a greening of the economy in two sectors... You really don't want to do a lot of things poorly."

Earlier this month, Manchin argued in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Democrats "should hit a strategic pause on the budget reconciliation legislation." Axios reported Sunday that the West Virginia Democrat "is privately saying he thinks Congress should take a 'strategic pause' until 2022 before voting on President Biden's $3.5 trillion social-spending package."

Responding to the Axios report on Twitter, Owens said, "Translation: Manchin wants to kill the bill."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "needs to schedule the vote and smoke him out," she said. "I doubt he is willing to tank the party agenda (one [with] huge benefits for his constituents) in the light of day."


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