House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is girding her caucus for decisions few of them want to make: cuts to the reconciliation package to pare it down from $3.5 trillion to whatever Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will accept.
“I’m very disappointed that we are not going with the original $3.5 trillion, which was very transformative,” she said as she opened her Tuesday press conference.
It’s an admission of the reality galling the vast majority of the caucus across both chambers: Manchin and presumably Sinema, though she’s never shared her red lines publicly, will force the package’s price tag down, likely into the neighborhood of $2 trillion.
“We’re still talking about a couple trillion dollars — but it’s much less,” Pelosi said. “Mostly we would be cutting back on years and something like that.”
She seemed to be embracing the idea of shortening the duration of programs within the reconciliation package rather than chopping them out wholesale to bring down the overall price tag, a notion that’s been gaining steam in the Senate.
It’s a seemingly different tack than she took Sunday in a letter to the caucus, when she shared the feedback she’d been getting from members.
“Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children!” she wrote.
Democrats are still in the early days of negotiating cuts, as the specific topline Manchin would accept only became widely known among the caucus two weeks ago. It’s a period of public and private jockeying, as Democrats try to keep their favored programs well-funded.
A group of New York City-area Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), published a letter Tuesday they’d written to congressional leadership, asking that their priorities be saved from the chopping block.
“As you work to finalize the package, we urge you to maintain the level of funding for public and affordable housing, immigration reform and accessible transportation in low-income communities,” they wrote.
After a quick vote Tuesday to pass the Senate’s debt limit extension, the House is out again until next week when the Senate returns. With the debt ceiling deadline kicked down the road, Democrats will have about a month and a half to craft a package that satisfies everyone enough to pass. That’ll mean nose-holding and likely factional fights, as the majority of the caucus plays tug-of-war with Manchin and Sinema over what stays in the bill, and what’s doomed to languish as a draft for the foreseeable future.
“The fact is that if there are fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made,” Pelosi said.