United States President Joe Biden answers questions in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 24, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden huddled with members of the two warring factions of Democratic lawmakers Tuesday to save his sprawling economic agenda.
Late on Tuesday, there were early signs of progress towards a compromise.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the talks “constructive” on Tuesday evening in a statement.
“The president is more confident about the way forward tonight,” said Psaki. She noted that the discussions “revolved around a shared commitment to the care industry to ensure that working families have more breathing space, to address the climate crisis and to invest in the industries of the future.”
While these four topics may sound like political speeches, they indicate the specific proposals that the Democrats are uniting around and, just as important, which ones are likely to stay on the table.
For example, “the care industry” means childcare allowances, universal preschools, and home care for the elderly. It doesn’t mean the free community college that was originally part of Biden’s agenda, but which NBC News reported Tuesday that it is likely to be dropped from a definitive deal.
To give working families “more air to breathe”, this means federal paid parental leave and expanded tax credits for children. It doesn’t mean Medicare can negotiate with drug companies, however: another proposal that could be put aside to gain consensus among a broken faction.
After all, “tackling the climate crisis and investing in the industries of the future” means funding new, cleaner, renewable energy sources. What it doesn’t mean is to impose fines on existing coal and gas-fired power plants that fail to meet the government’s clean energy goals.
The White House discussions on Tuesday came as the Democrats struggled to bridge deep divisions within their faction over a massive bill to invest in the social safety net and climate policy, both at the core of Biden’s domestic agenda.
The outcome of this week’s talks could determine not only whether the proposal for a social safety net will get through Congress, but whether its accompanying bill, a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate, will win a majority in the House of Representatives receives.
Biden’s first meeting on Tuesday morning was with Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat and a key vote that can sink or save Biden’s domestic policy plan in the 50-50 split Senate.
Biden also met with Arizona’s Senator Kyrsten Sinema that morning. Like Manchin, Sinema is a moderate democrat who has so far refused to pass the social safety net bill, which is half of Biden’s two-part domestic plan.
Later in the day, the President, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met first with House progressives and later with House and Senate centrists.
Progressives invited to a meeting that began at 2 p.m. ET included Reps Katherine Clark from Massachusetts, Debbie Dingell from Michigan, Pramila Jayapal from Washington, Mark Pocan from Wisconsin, Ritchie Torres from New York, and Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, all of California.
After that meeting, Jayapal told reporters outside the White House that it was a “really good, productive meeting,” but did not say whether specific decisions had been made.
Attending a later meeting at 4:30 p.m. ET was Sens. Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Jon Tester of Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia. Then there were the Californian representatives Ami Bera and Mike Thompson, the Washington representatives Suzan DelBene, Josh Gottheimer from New Jersey and Tom O’Halleran from Arizona.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, have announced plans to pass both plans before the end of October. But with only 7 congress days left per month, this deadline seems almost impossible to meet.
As of Tuesday, the Democrats hadn’t agreed on an overall price for their social spending plan, let alone written the specific laws.
Biden initially proposed a $ 3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan that included new childcare subsidies, Medicare enhancements, an increased child tax credit, universal pre-K and two years of free community college, and extensive investments in would have included green energy.
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But Biden’s plans have met with fierce opposition from Sinema and Manchin, albeit for different reasons.
Some say he will not vote on more than $ 1.5 trillion in spending, an attitude that contradicts House progressives who wanted to spend more than $ 3.5 trillion on the plan.
He has also signaled his opposition to a clean electricity standard that is at the heart of Biden’s green energy plan and has called for several of the family benefit programs to be considered.
Sinema has meanwhile also spoken out against the top-line price of the bill. Still, Sinema’s specific concerns are somewhat different from Manchin’s.
Sinema has criticized some of the corporate tax hikes, which Democrats believe are critical to paying for programs like family vacation and universal preschool without driving up national debt.
She also opposes a key provision that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with drug companies, a change that could greatly reduce the cost of prescription drugs and save the government billions of dollars annually.
As the Democrats struggle to cut the overall cost of domestic spending, they must figure out which programs need to be cut completely, which can be cut, and which should remain unchanged in the final legislation.
U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), with Rep Katherine Clark (D-MA), Rep Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Rep Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep Ritchie Torres (D-NY), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), leads a group of Democratic Congressmen from the West Wing to speak to reporters after meeting with President Joe Biden on infrastructure laws at the White House in Washington on October 19, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The outcome of these negotiations will determine whether millions of Americans see federal benefits increase in the years to come.
They will also determine the long-term scope of the federal response to climate change, which contributed to a wave of devastating fires and storms in the United States this year.
Manchin met separately on Monday with Jayapal, chairman of the Progressive Caucus of Congress, and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, the unofficial leader of a progressive block of Democratic Senators.
West Virginia is one of the largest producers of coal and natural gas in the country, which explains Manchin’s opposition to programs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
But he is also heavily invested in the coal industry. Manchin’s largest single source of income in 2020 was a coal consultancy he founded and is now run by his son.
– This story has been updated with the latest developments in the talks between Biden and the legislature.
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