The total spending outlined in the plan is $3.5 trillion, but moderates such as Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they will not support so high a figure. Support from both senators is needed because the Senate’s 50-50 split means every Democrat must back the bill for it to pass.
On Friday, Biden made the case, one his top aides began pushing last week, that the ultimate price tag will be nothing, because Democrats will pay for their expansive package with sources of revenue that are popular with voters.
“It is zero price tag on the debt we’re paying. We’re going to pay for everything we spend,” Biden said in remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House.
Biden also faced broader questions from reporters about his administration’s struggle to contend with a range of issues, from the Afghanistan pullout to Haitian immigration to a potential government shutdown. The president said he had inherited crises both foreseen and unforeseen, and he counseled patience.
“There’s a lot, I’m sure, along the line that there are things I could have done better,” Biden said. “But I make no apologies for my proposals, how I’m proceeding and why I think by the end of the year, we’re going to be in a very different place.”
Though he expressed confidence that he would ultimately sign the pillars of his “Build Back Better” plan, Biden acknowledged that the legislative process is “just going to take some time.” He said he did not expect the plans to be completed until the end of the year, although almost in the same breath, he backed off those comments, suggesting it could be sooner.
When asked, Biden did not weigh in on one of the biggest divisions among Democrats about the package — its ultimate size. The centrists’ objection almost guarantees the $3.5 trillion measure will shrink, but it’s not clear by how much. In an Oval Office meeting earlier this week, Biden privately pushed centrists to give him a spending figure they could accept.
On Friday, Biden shed some light into how he was trying to coax members of his party toward a compromise: asking what their priorities are and adding up the costs, rather than starting by haggling over the final price tag.
“Forget a number. What do you think we should be doing?” Biden said, recounting his talks with Democratic lawmakers. “Is it appropriate, in your view, to cut taxes for working-class people by providing for day care, providing for early education, 3 and 4 years old?”
He added: “Several of them, when they go through their priorities, it adds up to a number higher than they said they were for.”
Biden also said he supports a plan by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would impose annual taxes on billionaires’ unrealized capital gains.
Biden’s comments came as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gathered leaders of key House committees for a morning discussion about how to move forward with Biden’s domestic policy package. Exiting the brief session, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) sketched out a “possibility” that both a bipartisan infrastructure bill — which cleared the Senate earlier this year — and the second $3.5 trillion package could be voted on as soon as next week.
“We will have a vote when we have the votes.” Pelosi said.
But the potential timeline provoked unease among both liberal and moderate Democrats.
The leader of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), reiterated that at least half of her members would vote against the roughly $1 trillion plan to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections if House leaders proceed with their plan to consider it Monday.
Liberals are withholding their support as they seek to secure enough support for the broader $3.5 trillion package in their chamber as well as the Senate.
“It cannot pass,” Jayapal said. “I don’t bluff, I don’t grandstand, we just don’t have the votes for it.”
Jayapal said she also remains uncomfortable advancing a version of the $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending measure next week in the absence of a firmer agreement with Senate Democrats, including Manchin and Sinema, on its final shape.
“I just think it can only come to the floor once everyone has agreed, and once the Senate has voted on it,” she said. “So far, there’s been no reason to trust what they say is actually what they’re going to do.”
Some moderates share the concern about advancing the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package before it is ready. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), one of the leaders of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, pointed to Pelosi’s prior commitment to work out unresolved issues with the Senate so that House members do not have to take multiple votes on a package, particularly on provisions that might not be part of a final bill.
“There would have to be a lot of work that would have to be done between now and then to have a reconciliation bill that meets some of the requirements she has agreed to, which is that it’s pre-conferenced with the Senate,” Murphy said.
White House officials met with moderate House Democrats on Friday morning. That came after a group of aides — White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell and Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council — met with Sinema and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) late Thursday evening.
That session, aides said, was a chance for Sinema and Murray — who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — along with the White House officials to discuss issues under the panel’s purview, such as community college and prekindergarten care.