By LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON (AP) – Despite a long night of frantic negotiations, Democrats were unable to reach an immediate agreement Thursday night to save President Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion government reform, forcing a leaders to cancel vows promised in a related public works bill. The action will resume on Friday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had led the House to an evening session, and top White House aides gathered to talk on Capitol Hill as Democratic leaders worked to negotiate a scaled-down plan that the centrists would accept. Biden had cleared his schedule for calls with lawmakers, but it seemed like no deal was in his grasp, particularly with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
Manchin refused to budge, the West Virginia centrist clinging to his earlier statement that he was willing to meet the president for less than half – $ 1.5 trillion.
“I don’t see a deal tonight. I really don’t, ”Manchin told reporters as they left the Capitol.
Deeply at odds, the president and his party face a potentially embarrassing setback, if not a politically devastating collapse of the entire company, if they cannot resolve the confrontation over Biden’s grand vision.
At immediate risk was a promised vote on the first piece of Biden’s proposal, a slimmer $ 1 trillion public works bill that has wide support but has failed amid stalled talks about his package more. ambitious. Progressives were refusing to back the roads and bridges bill that they consider insufficient unless there is progress on Biden’s broader plan, which is at the heart of the Democratic agenda. With support, the leaders canceled a promised vote Thursday night and said the House would be back in session on Friday.
Pelosi called it a “day of progress” in a letter to her colleagues, but offered a few other words about the way forward.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement saying: “Much progress has been made this week and we are closer than ever to an agreement. But we haven’t got there yet, so we’ll need some extra time to finish the job, starting first thing tomorrow morning. “
The political stakes could hardly be higher. Biden and his party are seeking a major legislative achievement, which promises a major rewrite of the nation’s tax and spending plans, with such a small majority in Congress.
The president’s sweeping proposal of a maximum of $ 3.5 trillion would essentially raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and reinvest that money into health care, education, and other government programs, all of which would affect the lives of countless Americans. He says that the final price is zero, because the tax revenue covers the costs of spending.
With Biden working the phones and senior White House officials traveling on Capitol Hill, there was talk of Democratic leaders trying to ease the deadlock by reaching a broader agreement, a compromise with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two Democrats. centrists who are the axes of Biden’s goals.
The idea was to produce the outlines of an agreement on Biden’s broader package, proceed with the $ 1 trillion public works bill, and negotiate the remainder of Biden’s large health, education, and climate change bill in the next days. Legislators were told to stay for possible late-night votes.
But as the night wore on, it became clear that Manchin disagreed with a higher figure and chiseling that top line of $ 3.5 trillion risked losing progressive leaders who said they had committed enough already and didn’t see. no reason to rush a deal to get the centrists around to support the president’s agenda.
“We have been fighting for transformative legislation, as you all know, these discussions have dragged on month after month after month,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chairman of the Budget Committee and a prominent progressive lawmaker. “This is not a baseball game. This is the most important legislation in 70 years. “
All of this on a day that saw a partial victory for Democrats, with congressional approval and Biden’s signature to keep the government running past Thursday’s fiscal year-end deadline and avoid a federal shutdown that had been threatened by Republican blockades.
The public works bill is one part of that broader vision for Biden, a $ 1 trillion investment in routine transportation, broadband, water systems and other projects bolstered with additional funding. He won bipartisan support in the Senate, but has now been caught up in a broader debate.
Attention remains focused squarely on Manchin and Sinema, two centrist Democrats who helped get that bipartisan bill through, but are concerned that Biden’s blanket bill is too big. The two senators have infuriated their colleagues by not making any counterproposals public.
Under scrutiny, Manchin called an impromptu news conference Thursday outside the Capitol, insisting that it has been clear from the start.
“I’m willing to sit down and work on the $ 1.5,” Manchin told reporters, as protesters searched for a bigger package and Biden’s priorities chanted behind him.
Manchin said he told the president during talks this week and confirmed that he put his views on paper during earlier talks this summer with Schumer.
It is not just Manchin’s demands to downsize, but the conditions he wants to be placed on the new spending that will irritate his more liberal colleagues as he works to ensure that aid goes only to low-income people, in rather than to broader swaths of Americans. Tensions escalated Wednesday night when Manchin sent out a forceful statement, denouncing the overhead spending as “fiscal insanity.”
Sinema was similarly working to avoid criticism and her office said claims that she has not been forthcoming are “false,” though she has not publicly disclosed her views on the size of the package she wants and has declined to respond. questions about your position.
Sinema has put dollar figures on the table and “continues to participate directly in good faith discussions” with both Biden and Schumer, spokesman John LaBombard said in a statement.
On campaign promises from Democrats on the line, Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal said leaving Pelosi’s office that the views of progressives hadn’t changed: They won’t vote for a bill without the other and they would stay all weekend to reach an agreement.
“Inaction is insane,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, another progressive leader, clearly pointing to her criticism of Manchin’s comments.
“Trying to put an end to your party’s agenda is crazy. Not trying to make sure that the president that we all work so hard to elect has his agenda passed is insane. “
The centrists warned of canceling Thursday’s vote as a “breach of confidence that would curb momentum to advance the implementation of Biden’s agenda,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida, leader of the centrist Democrats Blue Dog.
At the same time, Congress mostly resolved a more immediate crisis by passing legislation to provide government funding and avoid a federal shutdown, keeping operations temporarily until December 3. The House quickly followed suit and Biden signed the bill on Thursday night.
With Republicans opposing the same step to the president’s grand plan, ridiculing it as a slide into socialist-style spending, Biden is striking a deal with members of his own party for a signature legislative achievement.
Biden insists that the price will actually be zero because the expansion of government programs would be paid for largely by higher taxes for corporations and the wealthy: companies making more than $ 5 million a year and individuals making more than $ 5 million. 400,000 a year, or $ 450,000 a year. couples
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Brian Slodysko, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.