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WASHINGTON — With President Joe Biden’s broad domestic agenda at risk of collapse, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sept. 26 vowed that Democrats will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill this week and push ahead on the bigger $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change bill while acknowledging the total amount will drop.
Biden spoke with lawmakers over the weekend on the path forward, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the private conversations. Extensive work was being done behind the scenes to shore up support.
When asked Sept. 26 if Pelosi had the votes to pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Biden told reporters at the White House, “It’s going to take the better part of this week.”
Pelosi had originally pledged to House moderates a vote on the infrastructure legislation by Sept. 27, but she said Sept. 26 in a letter to colleagues that vote will now be Sept. 30. Pelosi noted Sept. 30 is also the deadline for related transportation programs, many of which are in the infrastructure bill. With Democratic divisions, the extra time allowed space for negotiations on the broader bill, so both bills could advance. The $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed the Senate last month.
“Let me just say that we’re going to pass the bill this week,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said earlier Sept. 26 on ABC’s “This Week.” She added: “I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes. You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes in a reasonable time, and we will.”
Still, in a delicate balancing act aimed at achieving the near Democratic unanimity needed to push the sprawling package through, Pelosi made clear that Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion for social spending and climate initiatives will need to be trimmed.
Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they won’t support a bill of that size. Manchin has previously proposed spending of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion, an amount that progressives have called unacceptable for a bill they originally envisioned at $6 trillion.
Asked on ABC if she agrees the final number on the so-called reconciliation bill will be “somewhat smaller” than $3.5 trillion, Pelosi responded: “That seems self-evident.”
“We’ll see how the number comes down and what we need,” she added. “Again, the Senate and the House, those who are not in full agreement with the president, right, let’s see what our values — let’s not talk about numbers and dollars. Let’s talk about values.”
“I think even those who want a smaller number, support the vision of the president, and this is really transformative.”
Her comments reflected the enormous stakes for the coming week, one that could define the Biden presidency and shape the political contours of next year’s midterm elections.
Along with personal phone calls from the president, several Cabinet officials, senior staff and others were reaching out to lawmakers over the weekend, the White House official said.
Democrats have few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate if there is no Republican support to enact Biden’s massive “Build Back Better” agenda. Republicans are lockstep against the larger measure.
Biden, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.
The House Budget Committee on Sept. 25 advanced a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs, though one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face. The bill, which is certain to be revised before House voting, would be paid for with taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who led a group of House moderates in pushing a quick vote by Sept. 27 on the infrastructure bill, said Sept. 26 he wouldn’t be bothered by a slight delay. He was optimistic both pieces of legislation could be resolved this week.
“If the vote — the way these things work, if you start debating it and it rolls over to Tuesday ... I think we’re all reasonable people,” Gottheimer said. “There’s too much on the line here for our country.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said members of her group won’t be willing to support the infrastructure plan until there is “ironclad” agreement in the House and Senate on the reconciliation bill. She didn’t rule out additional cuts to the $3.5 trillion proposal to reach agreement.
“If somebody wants to take something out, we need to hear what that is,” she said.
Pelosi didn’t commit when asked on ABC about a vote this week on the social spending and climate bill, which Democrats intend to pass with a simple majority without GOP support. She suggested that House-Senate agreement could be reached this week, depending on rulings from the Senate parliamentarian on what provisions could be included.
“We are ready on our side,” Pelosi said. “We just have to see how quickly the parliamentarian can operate.”
The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals, with billions for rebuilding infrastructure, tackling climate change and expanding or introducing a range of services, from free prekindergarten to dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors.
But there are broad disputes on paying for the legislation as well as over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.
Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.
Gottheimer spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Jayapal appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Josh Boak contributed to this report.
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