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As Sanders and Manchin clash, Democratic leaders play it cool


WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has said that $ 3.5 trillion is a minimum price in the Democrats’ broad safety net program.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin says it’s too expensive for him.

If one of them doesn’t blink, a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s agenda will fail.

A clash between the most liberal and conservative Democrats in the 50-member Senate caucus has persisted for days, and neither shows any signs of backing down on their irreconcilable red lines as the House seeks to wrap up its committee work this day. week.

But Democratic leaders remain above the fray – for now. They let the debate unfold rather than immediately intervening to resolve it. And they insist on the need to stay together.

“We are moving forward. There is going to be a lot of intense discussion and negotiation over the next few weeks,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y, told reporters on Tuesday. “There are members of our caucus who want it to be above 3.5 [trillion], there are members of our caucus who want it to be less than 3.5. We will have to come together. “

“Every member of our caucus, without exception, realizes that our unity is our strength,” he said.

How the dispute is resolved remains unclear. But sources familiar with the thinking of Democratic leaders say they will let committees move the pieces of the bill forward; at the end of the day, when the task of finalizing it lands on their plate, they’ll have a final negotiation to get a product that can pass both chambers.

Schumer spoke after a two-hour meeting between Senate Democrats in which the committee heads discussed various elements of the bill that are within their purview, according to senators in the room. It was a general discussion that did not result in a final agreement on the contentious issues.

“We have a $ 3.5 trillion bill, which is extremely popular with the American people, and especially the working class,” Sanders told NBC News. “We fought hard to pass the US bailout which was hugely successful and helped us out of economic decline. I’m pretty confident that at the end of the day we’ll pass a bill. $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation. “

Manchin told NBC’s Meet The Press on Sunday: “I can’t stand $ 3.5 trillion.”

He held this post on Tuesday. Asked by reporters about Sanders’ insistence on this level of spending, Manchin replied, “God bless him.”

“Everyone knows my position,” he said. “I’ve been very clear … I didn’t want anyone to say it was a surprise. So everyone knows roughly where I am, so we’ll keep working on it.”

One of the reasons Democratic leaders aren’t stepping in yet is that Manchin hasn’t named his award. West Virginia has not said what spending policies it opposes in the emerging package, with one exception: it has rejected the 80% clean electricity standard. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, also did not say what price she would support, or what provisions she opposes.

One of the most controversial issues will be clean energy policy. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., Said other Democrats “will have to work with” Manchin to address the climate crisis in the package.

“We did not come to any conclusions in this discussion,” he said after the meeting.

Republicans, meanwhile, grab the popcorn as Democrats fight. “I kind of appreciate that they’re going through this whole high-flying act,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Party leaders want a clearer picture of their endgame before they start negotiating and come up with a resolution that can get the votes of all 50 Democratic Senators and all but three House Democrats in the House.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Said the House will vote on a bill that can be passed by both houses, which will likely force bicameral negotiation at the highest level.

There are also a host of competing demands in the House. Some lawmakers want to lift the $ 10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, and there are differences on prescription drug policy.

“I think we’ll get together eventually,” said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del, a close ally and friend of Biden. “I expect, just like the infrastructure bill, that this bill will be declared dead several times before it is finally passed. But there is a lot of energy behind it.”

“Now to work out the details and the difference between what we can – it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “We have some really tough choices to make.”