By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is expected to speak with Senator Joe Manchin as soon as Monday as Democrats struggle to overcome stubborn differences on a $1.75 trillion spending package while Congress prepares to wrap up its work for the year.
Months of disagreement have held up the “Build Back Better” bill, which aims to bolster the social safety net and fight climate change, leading the chair of Congress’ large progressive Democratic caucus to voice exasperation on Monday at what she said were deliberate misrepresentations of the bill.
U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal criticized an analysis of the bill released on Friday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office at the request of Senate Republicans, which found that the bill would add $3 trillion to the federal budget deficit over the next decade if all its programs ran that long.
That conflicted with an earlier CBO analysis, based on provisions in the bill that would phase out some programs, that it would increase the deficit by $367 billion. Democrats argue that all of that would be offset by increased tax revenue.
“We made tough choices to only fund certain programs for fewer years (because the) top line number had to come down,” Jayapal wrote in a series of tweets. “It is completely illogical to impute a score on a non-existent bill & shows GOP is just trying to kill it,” she said, referring to Republicans.
The bill has already been scaled back in scope from $3.5 trillion.
Top Senate Democrat Charles Schumer has said he hopes to pass the bill by Christmas.
Biden and Manchin’s meeting marks the latest attempt by the president to engage with Capitol Hill and rescue the final – and largest – component of his economic agenda from in-fighting and delays.
Speaking with reporters, Biden declined to offer specifics on what he planned to discuss with Manchin, but described how he typically approaches such meetings.
“I try to convince them that what I’m proposing makes sense and it’s not inconsistent with what they believe,” Biden said. “I’ll do that.”
Manchin, a pivotal moderate swing vote without whom the bill cannot pass, has been the chief obstacle, calling on Democrats to slow down the process and consider issues like inflation. He has talked about putting off passage of the bill until next year.
Jayapal agreed to corral most of the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus into voting for Biden’s major infrastructure bill in November on Democratic leadership’s promise that Build Back Better would pass.
A series of self-imposed deadlines have eaten up legislative time this month. Congress entered December in a rare flurry of action, passing a bill to fund the government through February, avoiding a politically embarrassing partial shutdown.
This week, lawmakers are scrambling to raise the federal government’s $28.9 trillion debt limit, averting an unprecedented default. Both chambers are expected to pass that bill on Tuesday, after Schumer and top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell agreed on a maneuver to allow the Senate to do so without Republican votes.
The specific dollar amount has not been revealed but was expected to be in the range of $2 trillion to $3 trillion, which would cover the government’s needs at least through the November 2022 congressional elections.