After months of tough negotiations with moderate Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took to Twitter to demand an all-or-nothing $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill.
Sanders, the author of the expansive budget, initially wanted a bill with a $6 trillion price tag, but this was eventually lowered in the final draft of his budget to $3.5 trillion. For some Senate moderates, even this lower price was far too much, and prominent Democrats have promised that they will not vote for a $3.5 trillion bill.
On the other hand, Sanders has long indicated that he and other progressives feel they have already compromised enough. After one meeting on the bill, the senator complained that “the top line has come down. It started at $6 trillion.” Still, Sanders did not entirely reject a smaller bill altogether, as negotiations between moderates and progressives continued.
Tuesday, just two days before the scheduled vote on the hastily crafted reconciliation bill, Sanders came out publicly against any bill with a price tag lower than $3.5 trillion.
On Twitter, Sanders wrote: “No infrastructure bill should pass without a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That is the agreement that was made & that is the agreement that must be kept. Physical infrastructure is important, but the needs of working families & combatting climate change is more important.”
Sanders Demands Contradict Democratic Leadership’s Expectations
This position conflicts with the intentions of Democratic leaders who have indicated the necessity of lowering the bill’s price tag to win moderate support.
The two main Democratic opponents of the bill have been Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Manchin explained that his main concerns were that the bill would increase inflation, which has steadily risen under the Biden administration. Because of this, Manchin said he could not support the bill “without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
He called for a “strategic pause” to consider these factors, as well as “significantly reducing the size of any possible reconciliation bill to only what America can afford and needs to spend.”
A spokesman Sinema, who has said little about the bill, said simply that “Kyrsten will not support a budget reconciliation bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”
Since then, Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have been in high-stakes negotiations with the two moderate Democrats.
According to Manchin, Biden was open to cutting spending. After a Sept. 22 meeting with Biden, Manchin said that Biden “just basically said find a number you’re comfortable with.” He reported the president as saying, “Give me a number.” While the self-styled “conservative Democrat” has been tight-lipped on what that amount might look like, he expressed confidence about the direction of the negotiations.
“The president is deeply committed to getting things done and we’re committed to working with him to try to find a pathway forward,” said Manchin after one such meeting.
Pelosi, like Biden, considered reducing the budget’s top line price acceptable. The speaker said on Monday that it “seems self-evident” that the bill’s spending will be reduced.
“Everybody overwhelmingly, and I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president,” Pelosi said. “Adding up what our priorities are should take us to a number where we find common ground.”
Under budget reconciliation, legislation related directly to government revenues and spending can be passed through the Senate by a simple majority, thus bypassing the threat of death by filibuster. But Democrats only control a razor-thin majority, and must have the support of every single member to pass the budget bill.
Sanders’ demand threatens to derail the legislation, as moderates remain consistent in their opposition to a $3.5 trillion bill. Thus far, no Republican in the Senate has come out in favor of the bill, making the acquiescence of every Democrat crucial for the bill’s passage.
Isabel van Brugen contributed to this report.