You Kids Behave Or Joe Biden Will Turn This Bus Right Around, No Bridges, No Daycare, No Disneyland!
Morning Zoo Playbook today offered a glimpse inside yesterday's marathon meetings between President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, in which the president tried to herd the moderate and progressive cats from the House and Senate toward some kind of consensus on the great big Build Back Better reconciliation package. He started with a nice chat with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, from whom no details at all leaked, and he closed out the day with what sounded like a pretty cordial meeting with House and Senate progressives.
In between, Biden met with 11 "moderates" from both houses, including Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Josh Gottheimer, and it is a testament to Mr. Biden's demeanor that as far as anyone knows, he did not actually rip out any of his hair.
Politico reports that during the meeting with the "moderates," who have all said in one way or another they can't bring themselves to vote for Biden's package of climate and safety net spending if it keeps its current price tag of $3.5 trillion over 10 years, Biden couldn't get a single one of them to venture a specific "top-line number" that they could live with.
They all refused and instead argued Dems should nail down an agreed-upon list of revenue raisers that would determine the top line. Murphy came to the meeting with a 10-plus-page spreadsheet of ways to fund the bill.
Biden fished again for a top line. "Give me a number, and tell me what you can live with and what you can't," Manchin later quoted the president saying. But no luck.
"The president really wanted a top line and was clearly getting frustrated," said a source briefed on the meeting. "He was very frustrated that they couldn't announce a number today." The source added that his boss's "biggest takeaway" was that Biden acknowledged the top-line number would be less than $3.5 trillion.
Well that's pretty irritating! Kind of difficult to "negotiate" when one group won't say what its opening position is, other than "not as much as you want."
So what did they talk about in the fuckmeeting? Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said they talked about nearly everything in the reconciliation bill, from taxes to climate to the family-friendly work policies at the core of the proposal.
Sen. Joe Manchin, as you could predict, was a complete butt on some of the climate provisions, which could be a bit of a problem since, as chair of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources, he'll be writing the Senate's version of the climate plan. After the meeting yesterday, here's what Manchin had to say about the reconciliation bill's climate provisions:
Or if you want to be all literal about it, Manchin said "I have big problems" with the climate proposals, and that "Probably [President Biden] and I are in a different place on that." It's not too much of a surprise, given his already stated objections to spending money to get utilities off fossil fuels (he owns coal companies, which seems pertinent), but goddamn it, Mr. Senator, we're on a damn time limit here, planetwise.
Politico also says the moderates were all very unhappy with Sen. Bernie Sanders's proposal to expand Medicare to cover vision, hearing, and dental care; instead, they prefer Nancy Pelosi's call to strengthen Obamacare, and apparently aren't at all interested in doing both, because what're you gonna do with these moderates?
"They stressed to the president, 'We're behind the speaker in this instance,'" said the source. "There was enough in that room to kill Bernie Sanders' idea."
Biden sent them off with some homework:
Come up with a set of principles or framework for reconciliation that will persuade progressives to back down from their threat to kill [the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package] in the House on Monday. "The goal is to try to get a framework before the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package," Tester said after he left the White House.
Remember, House progressives keep reminding everyone that the only reason 11 progressive senators voted for the infrastructure bill was that leadership in both houses had committed to passing Build Back Better first, so's moderates wouldn't just pass the piddly infrastructure bill and then walk away. So it's going to take some seriously big commitments if the moderates think they can vote on infrastructure before the reconciliation bill is even ready.
The moderates' insistence on going ahead with the planned infrastructure vote Monday was the focus of Biden's final meeting, which was attended by Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Barbara Lee, Sen. Ron Wyden, and Bernie Sanders. They want Biden to talk the moderates down from a rushed vote on infrastructure:
"It's weird if you are supposedly for a bill to insist on killing it," one person in the room told Playbook. "The iron law of legislating is that if you have the votes you take the vote, and if you don't have the votes you delay the vote. [...] It's quite standard. It is NOT standard to insist on a vote when you know it will fail. Weird to call yourself a pragmatist and then kill the bill you say you want to pass by not giving negotiators more time."
How did Biden respond to the requests for delay? "I hear ya," the president told the progressives, according to Wyden. "I know a lot of you think that's an arbitrary date. Let me think about it, and I'll talk to Sen. Schumer and the speaker."
So ... maybe? We'll see next week if the moderates can come up with something that'll convince the progressives to allow the infrastructure bill to pass first; or whether Biden can get the moderates to hold off. Maybe Biden will remind the moderates that the best way for them to hold on to Congress in 2022 is not to pretend to be Republicans, but to pass a big bold bill that people will start benefiting from right away.
Unless of course they think "we failed and also the house is on fire" is a particularly wonderful campaign strategy.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.