Senate Democrats Split on Spending as Biden Meets Sanders

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(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden met with Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders on Monday as Democratic lawmakers wrangled to find consensus on legislation designed to carry most of Biden’s $4 trillion longer-term economic agenda.

© Bloomberg Senate Democrats Split on Spending as Biden Meets Sanders

“My job is to do everything I can to see the Senate comes forward with the strongest possible legislation to protect the needs of the working families of this country,” Sanders told reporters after meeting with Biden at the White House. “I think we are on the same page,” he said of Biden.

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Later, at the Capitol, Sanders said negotiations had progressed over the July 4 congressional recess. He met Monday night with Democrats on his committee, White House economic adviser Brian Deese and chief legislative liaison Louisa Terrell for what Sanders called a “robust” discussion but they did not reach a deal.

“We are dealing with a multi-trillion bill,” Sanders said. “This is part of the process.”

Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Budget Committee member, said there is a “decent chance” the same group will be able to finalize a deal Tuesday night. He said that everything remained on the table. Democrats said they are trying to come to a deal by Thursday in order to bring the budget up for potential Senate floor votes next week.

Senate Democrats remain divided on the size and scope of the fast-track budget reconciliation bill intended to include a raft of social spending and tax increases, according to a person familiar with the process.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said earlier Monday that the Senate Budget Committee “is close to finalizing a budget resolution.” But lingering disagreement could nonetheless complicate plans to pass a budget resolution in the House and Senate this month to set up the tax and social-spending bill later in the year.

At the same time, a bipartisan group of senators who sealed a tentative deal with Biden last month on the framework for a major infrastructure package — another vital part of the administration’s agenda — also has yet to nail down the details of that legislation, according to Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said there would be more meetings Tuesday on the infrastructure bill.

‘Transformative’ Agenda

The continuing divisions on both tracks showcase the headwinds for Biden as he seeks approval in coming months of the biggest expansion in social spending and infrastructure development in decades.

“What we are trying to do is transformative — the legislation that the president and I are supporting will go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s,” Sanders said Monday.

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Senate Budget Committee Democrats, returning to Washington Monday after a recess, plan to meet soon to try to iron out their differences. Sanders had outlined a $6 trillion proposal covering Biden’s agenda as well as an expansion of Medicare, additional climate change items, immigration reform and a permanent extension of the child care tax credit.

But the Vermont independent must get agreement from moderates in the caucus to pass both the budget resolution and a follow-up reconciliation bill, which requires 50 votes for passage along with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

‘Ready for It’

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked about the continuing disagreements among Democrats, said the White House will be actively engaged with Sanders and other Democrats in crafting the proposal.

“We expect there to be some significant ups and downs but we are ready for it — we’re bracing for it,” Psaki said Monday.

First up for Sanders is persuading moderate Democrats on Sanders’s own committee, including Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Warner has indicated he’s more comfortable with a budget resolution that totals $3 trillion to $4 trillion.

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Separately, a bipartisan group of senators is putting the finishing touches on a $579 billion infrastructure bill and plans to meet Tuesday to approve changes, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Portman, a key negotiator of that package, said Monday the deal needs more work, with the Congressional Budget Office not on board with plans to pay for it. One example of the challenges: the CBO isn’t projecting as much revenue from stepped-up Internal Revenue Service enforcement as the senators had estimated.

Portman said the CBO might not give the group full credit for increasing tax enforcement and other issues, and that could be an issue for some senators who want to see the CBO score.

Portman said he is less concerned by that. “Most economists would say over time, it pays for itself,” the Ohio Republican said of the infrastructure investments, by making the economy more efficient.

“There are member-level decisions that need to be made,” the Ohio Republican said. “We still have a ways to go,” Portman said, adding that it would be difficult to finish the bill text this week.

(Updates with latest from Sanders, in third paragraph; adds Van Hollen, in fifth paragraph)

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