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Democratic divisions threaten to bog down Biden’s economic package

Democratic leaders had hoped the party could rally to a proposal by Wednesday. But a wide range of Democratic senators have made it clear that Wednesday’s schedule is not achievable, although party leaders still hope a bill can be approved by Congress before the end of the month – which would require full party unity in the Senate.

But the party is still at odds over the price of the plan, the tax hikes to be paid, the health care provisions of the proposal, and the essential climate provisions to convince the Liberals. And the problems for Democratic leaders go beyond the Sense. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two of the party’s more moderate members.

“So I think there’s going to have to be work on a lot of things – a lot of arguments are going to be made,” said Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “And it’s not just Joe Manchin or Senator Sinema, it’s other people.”

Manchin agreed.

“I think there are a lot of my colleagues who could share different parts of my position more privately,” Manchin, who called for a “pause” in considering the proposal amid his concerns about the inflation and government spending. . “And since I’m the one on the chopping block here, I want people to know exactly where I stand, so it’s no surprise.”

Indeed, some of the party’s most vulnerable Democrats would not accept the mind-boggling dollar amount.

When asked twice about the $ 3.5 trillion prize, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said, “I said I was going to vote.”

The differences are mounting on a bill that would touch almost every corner of household life, from education to healthcare to energy – and also force Democrats to decide how much to raise taxes on people. corporations and wealthy Americans just a year before the midterm elections.

On Monday, Liberal Democrats made it clear they would not agree to a plan that undermines efforts to tackle global warming – even as Manchin has resisted demands to force America’s electricity grid to rely heavily on renewable energy sources over the next decade. Manchin, who represents a coal-producing state, said on Sunday that the target being envisioned by Democratic lawmakers “makes no sense.”

The progressives scoffed at this comment.

“Everyone has the opportunity to throw the tires,” said Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “At the end of the day, we’ll have a deal, and it’ll be good enough on the climate or it won’t work.”

When asked if that was a red line for him, Whitehouse replied, “It’s pretty red.”

“The urgency of the crisis has been very clear this summer,” said Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a strong advocate for climate change regulation. “We have to work hard to find a solution to this problem. But I don’t think we should finish the legislation until there is a clean energy standard.”

Pressure is mounting as the Senate is only in town for a truncated week – while the House only resumes sitting next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team aim to vote on the House’s version of the bill as early as next week.

This was partly because of a deal she struck with moderate Democrats who had demanded a vote on the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure package passed by the Senate by September 27. , which means Democrats could see months of talks crumble.

On Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee formally outlined its plans to fund the massive proposal, but many senators were still considering tax hikes, warning that further negotiations with the House on the mechanisms of financing, before the legislation would be finalized. Additionally, some moderate Democrats like Senator Jon Tester of Montana insisted that the costs of the package be fully offset.

“My New Hampshire constituents never like any tax increase,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic state senator. “I think having a tax system that is fair makes sense.”

On Monday, behind closed doors, talks began in person, including with Manchin and the main Democrats in the Senate. Over the past month, while Congress was on recess, top Democratic House and Senate presidents raised disagreements among members of their committees – and also held separate talks with other lawmakers who expressed concerns about politics, including Manchin.

Now that the members are back in person, Democratic leaders are hoping the differences can be bridged.

“We have work to do,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. “Everyone’s coming back from the August break. It’s our chance to face each other, to see each other in the eyes, but to try to work out our differences. But there are clearly differences.”

But how quickly will that happen – and whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be able to bring his entire caucus together remains to be seen. Because they rely on an unobstructed budget process, Democrats don’t need any Republican to back it up. But they have no room for error in the 50-50 Senate, while Pelosi can only lose three votes in the tightly divided House.

Democratic divisions threaten to bog down Biden’s economic package

“Some people are above 3.5, some people are below,” Schumer said of the total price of $ 3.5 trillion for the Democratic package alone. “We must all come together.”

When asked if he was determined to stay at this number, Schumer said, “I gave you my answer.”

Some Democrats are reacting with caution.

“I don’t put a line in the sand on a number, but I do recognize it’s a significant amount of money,” said Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat who is slated for re-election next year. , asked about the price. “And I’m going to look at the details of what we’re going to get for whatever number the first line is and then how are we going to pay for it.”

The tough choices ahead will force Democrats to wonder how far Biden’s ambitious agenda on paid family leave, expanded health care, free preschool and community college will be implemented. But some fear that if the party does not align quickly, the task will only become more difficult.

“We have to keep moving forward,” said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, when asked about Manchin’s call for a recess. “It’s difficult, but it won’t get easier over time.”

CNN’s Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.