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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday tried to patch over Democratic divisions in Congress by touting the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package while insisting there will be a second single-party bill drafted by Sen. Bernie Sanders and rammed through Congress using budget reconciliation rules.
But the struggle to keep President Biden’s own party together on a key White House measure hinges on the support of centrist Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Biden has struggled to explain his position — telling Republican senators last week that they had a $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal, before saying he would only sign it if a reconciliation bill is also passed. Biden walked back that threat after Republicans said they felt double-crossed.
“He looks forward to sign both bills into law and he will leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the order and the sequencing,” Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden traveled to Wisconsin on Tuesday to promote the bipartisan deal.
“The president made clear that he is going to work his heart out getting both bills across the finish line,” she said.
Democrats control the evenly divided Senate, but can’t lose a single vote if they want to pass a budget reconciliation bill without Republicans — and some centrist Democrats, such as Manchin, say they are alarmed at the potential size of a bill that could raise taxes and hike social spending.
Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described socialist and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, recently unveiled a $6 trillion plan that he wants to pass through reconciliation. That bill would go even further than Biden’s original $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and associated $1.8 trillion “families” plan.
Asked about Sanders objecting to the amount of renewable energy funding in the bipartisan plan, Psaki said, “first we say to Senator Sanders, you’re an important partner and we look forward to continuing to work with you to get this and the reconciliation package across the finish line.”
Psaki added that Biden “is committed to continuing to work to get more in the reconciliation package, something that Senator Sanders is certainly running point and leading on.”
Democrats can afford to lose few votes — either from left-wing members or centrists — in either chamber. Democrats hold the House by a narrow, nine-seat margin, putting the bipartisan deal at risk from leftists if a budget reconciliation attempt dies in the Senate and potentially sinking a reconciliation plan if centrists refuse to support it.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she won’t allow a vote on the bipartisan plan unless the Senate passes a second bill under reconciliation rules that bypass the usual 60-vote threshold.
“There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” Pelosi said last week.
Democrats hope the reconciliation package will resurrect plans to increase taxes on higher incomes and businesses in order to subsidize electric cars, health care and other more contentious objectives.
The bipartisan compromise includes $109 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $65 billion for broadband internet, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $49 billion for public transport, $47 billion for infrastructure resilience, $25 billion for airports, $7.5 billion for electric buses and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
Biden’s original infrastructure plan called for $400 billion for home and community health care and $174 billion to subsidize electric vehicles. Neither made the cut.
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