With the House and Senate in recess, and the progressive-spearheaded $3.5 trillion social spending package left hanging in the balance, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scolded the media Tuesday for not doing more promotional messaging for the program.
Asked whether Democrats have failed to effectively persuade the public that a massive influx of social spending is necessary, Pelosi turned the question around on the reporter.
“Well I think you all could do a better job of selling it, to be very frank with you, because every time I come here I go through the list: medical leave, climate, the issues that are in there,” Pelosi said.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Monday evening, Pelosi expressed a willingness from her caucus to pare down the number of programs in the reconciliation bill to a small number of permanent policy changes.
“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families,” she wrote.
Another alternative under Democratic consideration is to pass a bill including the party’s entire policy wishlist but with shorter lifespans that would lower the top line cost and force Republicans to vote against extending the programs when they run up against deadlines in the coming years. Senior Democrats told Politico that the White House has signaled an openness to this avenue.
To persuade the public, Pelosi, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, and other prominent Democrats have repeated the talking point that the Build Back Better plan will cost “zero dollars” because it is effectively subsidized by steep tax hikes on high-earners.
Given the circumstances of the pandemic, Psaki said during a press briefing Tuesday that the Biden administration believes now is an opportune time to push the reconciliation plan and its legislative priorities, including expanding childcare, healthcare, climate crisis mitigation, education, and others.
Psaki acknowledged during the briefing that the final document is unlikely to cost $3.5 trillion and will be “less than that,” given the partisan gridlock over that issue.
With Democrats holding a very slim governing majority in both chambers, Psaki ensured the press that this was “not a political assessment.”
“It was more about the moment we’re coming out of now,” she said.
While Democrats have a chance at advancing the reconciliation bill in the House where their margin is greater, obstacles are mounting in the evenly split Senate, where moderate senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have rejected the original plan’s price tag, mainly citing inflation concerns.
The president wants to make a “fundamental change in our economy,” she stated, and the COVID crisis is “exactly the time to do that.” Psaki noted that if the Democrats don’t lobby for universal pre-k, climate change action, and the like while they have consolidated control, they may not have an opportunity to pass them in the future.
Despite the ongoing negotiations with Pelosi, some progressive legislators are still standing firm on the $3.5 trillion number, with Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal announcing recently that she is opposed to reducing it to $1.5 trillion on the grounds that the amended number is “too small.”
Last week, Manchin indicated that he would be amenable to a value in the ballpark of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion in a significant compromise with his party but nonetheless one that some Democratic members, such as senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are still unsatisfied with. Manchin’s new offer is a departure from his original non-negotiable number of $1.5 trillion.