President Joe Biden admitted during a Friday speech in Hartford, Connecticut that a $3.5 trillion price tag on his hallmark “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation bill will be unable to pass the Senate, where moderate members of his party have put up resistance to the bill for months.
Most prominently, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have been firm in their refusal to support a $3.5 trillion budget bill, viewing such a large bill as too costly.
“When I hear people say it costs $3.5 trillion, I’ll be honest with you, we’re probably not going to get $3.5 trillion this year,” Biden said.
“We’re gonna get something less than that, but I’m going to negotiate,” he added. “I’m going to get it done.”
Biden has been in negotiations with the moderates for months. Aside from a one-off visit to the House of Representatives, Biden’s legislative efforts have almost entirely focused on the Senate, where a single vote can make or break Biden’s agenda.
Manchin came out against the bill in a Sept. 2 op-ed, where he flatly refused to vote for any $3.5 trillion bill. Sinema has been far less open, but has made clear through spokesmen that she is and remains in the same camp with Manchin.
While Manchin expressed confidence that some agreement could be reached, deadline after deadline passed by with no vote on the bill in the House. After months of being tight-lipped about his desired price tag, Manchin finally revealed to reporters that his price cap would be $1.5 trillion, which would slash nearly tw0-thirds of the bill’s spending.
Despite negotiations with the president, Manchin made clear that he was unmoved, saying that he still considers the budget bill “fiscal insanity.”
At the same time, House progressives re-upped their opposition to moderates in both chambers, threatening to tank the moderates’ preferred infrastructure legislation without passage of a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the author of the budget’s framework, encouraged his colleagues in the lower House to maintain their position.
After weeks of harried negotiations with the two factions in order to meet an end-of-September deadline, it became clear to leadership that division in the party remains stark, forcing the deadline to be pushed to the end of October. Neither side has yet given any indication that they are relenting in their demands.
Still, Biden insisted in Hartford that he remains confident, saying, “I’m convinced we’re going to get it done,” though, he admitted, “We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion. We’ll get less than that, but we’re going to get it, and we’re going to come back and get the rest.”
But Biden did take a shot at moderate opponents of his bills, saying, “Too many folks in Washington still don’t realize it isn’t enough just to invest in our physical infrastructure. We also have to invest in our people.”
Biden’s admission that $3.5 trillion is impossible comes as no surprise, as the same has been hesitantly admitted or hinted at by leaders over the past several weeks.
In a statement to fellow Democrats, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dismissed the bills’ earlier failures.
“Doing big things in Congress is hard. Doing really big things all at once is really hard,” he wrote, adding that leadership knew “from the very beginning” that passing the two bills would be “difficult and, at times, messy.”
But, he said, “[Democrats] can get this done, together, if we put aside our differences and find the common ground within our party.”
Here, Schumer turned to both wings of the party playing hardball, saying that getting either piece of legislation done “will require sacrifice. Not every member will get what he or she wanted.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who had previously called it “self-evident” that a $3.5 trillion bill would not happen, indicated at an Oct. 12 press conference that she was open to making cuts despite avidly supporting the full price tag.
She noted the new strain this puts on crafting the law for Democrats, who have ambitious and often contradictory visions for the legislation. “Even at $3.5 you have to make decisions, so we have to make even tighter decisions now.”