WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a crucial moment for Democrats, party leaders are hunting for a sweet spot that would satisfy their rival moderate and progressive wings on legislation to finance President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar agenda.
With virtually no votes to spare and saber rattling by both Democratic factions, leaders are finding their search for middle ground arduous — even though the president’s push for infrastructure projects and family-centered initiatives is his top domestic priority.
With Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., winning the spotlight by issuing demands on crucial issues, plenty of centrists and liberals are now using that same playbook. In a procession of meetings with White House officials and congressional budget writers, progressives have insisted that the emerging measures be big and aggressive.
“We’re all Joe Manchin right now,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky.
The leverage every Democrat has flows from simple arithmetic. Expecting unanimous Republican opposition to much of Biden’s package, they need total unity in the 50-50 Senate — plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote — and can lose only a very few House votes.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently floated an enormous $6 trillion proposal for infrastructure, climate change, health care and other programs that progressives love.
The party is hoping he can craft a budget resolution — the first step in Congress’ creaky process for churning out spending and tax bills — that Democrats can push through the Senate and House this month. Lawmakers would likely work on detailed bills providing the funds and revenue this fall.
Lawmakers, aides and lobbyists say Sanders is running into resistance from moderates and will be lucky to come close to even Biden’s $4 trillion. And while moderates and progressives have generally refrained from sniping publicly, they’re not bashful about voicing their views.
Besides setting spending and revenue targets, a budget will be make-or-break for Democrats because under congressional rules, it would let them prevent Republicans from using Senate filibusters to kill later legislation actually providing the money for Biden’s plans. Filibusters, or endless procedural delays, take 60 votes to overcome, a nearly insurmountable obstacle in today’s Congress.
Democrats control the House 220-211 with four vacancies and can lose no more than four of their votes to pass bills. That number will shrink to three after a Texas runoff late this month in which both remaining candidates are Republicans.