'We ought to get locked in a room:' With time running out before the midterms, Democrats grow anxious about botching Biden's agenda
- Biden's economic agenda is on the ropes with Manchin holding out.
- The party's effort to strike a deal with the West Virginia Democrat hasn't gone anywhere in months.
The chaos-squiggle image of President
Gone are last year's appeals from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for Democrats to pursue "big, bold" social change on a scale similar to the Great Society or the New Deal with new federal spending on childcare, checks to parents, and education. They shifted their focus from a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the
But even that smaller scope does not seem to have moved the needle with Manchin as spring turns to summer. Now some Democrats are openly fretting they will botch their endeavor to secure elements of Biden's agenda and leave empty-handed with time dwindling before the midterms.
They face enormous challenges hanging onto their narrow majorities in both chambers. Inflation is severely denting Biden's approval rating and some polls show Republicans edging out Democrats on the economy.
"I'm worried that we won't deliver for the American people," Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts told Insider, adding "it makes no sense not to have a deal."
"It would be professional malpractice for a Democratic majority — albeit a narrow one — to leave a reconciliation opportunity on the table," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said in an interview. "We ought to get locked in a room until we can have all 50 in agreement."
To tackle inflation, Manchin says he is open to a package centered on deficit reduction, cutting prescription drug prices, and stepping up taxes on the super-rich and large corporations. But signs of an imminent breakthrough are scant with talks remaining behind closed doors. He's never publicly endorsed Biden's spending plans.
Manchin and Schumer have met twice since late April on efforts to curtail inflation. The pair met recently on Wednesday afternoon, Politico reported. Schumer said they "were making some progress. I'm feeling decent."
Some in the party like Kaine had floated a Memorial Day deadline to see if a deal could be struck with the Democratic holdout. But Manchin is suggesting Sept. 30 — when the party's ability to approve a bill without GOP votes expires due to the strict rules governing reconciliation — as the final deadline, telling Politico that "I don't know how you put a time limit on that if you can do it right."
But there is widespread belief among Democrats that the start of the August recess marks the end of their capacity to pass a slimmer bill with attention turning to campaigning.
It's possible other deadlines could force a last-minute Democratic scramble. Enhanced federal subsidies available through the Affordable Care Act are set to expire at the end of the year under the Biden stimulus law. That program bolstered financial assistance for individuals buying their own health insurance through Obamacare's federal exchange or state marketplace.
But experts say Congress must act by midsummer to avoid setting off steep premium hikes that millions of voters would learn about only a week before the November midterms. West Virginia residents would see the biggest premium increases in the nation, per a report from the Families USA advocacy group released this week.
"That's a headwind, but it's also a tailwind in that this is certainly something Joe Manchin wouldn't want to happen," Rep. Donald Beyer of Virginia, a member of the House Ways and Means panel, told Insider. "Why would he want all these health insurance premiums to go up? So that one might be a piece to get that constructive conversation between the senator and the president."
Other priorities are taking up his attention. Manchin has been spearheading an effort to secure a bipartisan energy deal. The bipartisan gang fluctuates in size between 10 to 12 Democrats and Republicans and they have convened four times over the past month. There have been few signs of an emerging agreement with the lawmakers wielding competing priorities on how to pay for it and whether cleaner energy should be a focus.
"My gut tells me that we might have a shot at a bipartisan bill. We might resolve some of our differences, but not all," Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a regular Democratic attendee, told Insider. "At the end of the day, there might have to be a smaller reconciliation bill than would otherwise have been necessary."
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, another Democratic attendee, simply shrugged when asked if he believed the group's work was meant to replace a Democrat-only spending plan. Others in the room, though, believe Manchin wouldn't be plowing so much time and energy if that wasn't the case.
"He's been so clear about reconciliation," GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told reporters on Monday evening. "I don't know why even his own people seem to not accept no for an answer."
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