Democrats push and pull over President Biden’s spending bills

In a stand-off this week between moderate and progressive Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delayed a vote on President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill as negotiations over a more than $3 trillion social spending bill continue. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins to explain the ins-and-outs of the bills, the disagreements and what may bring Democrats together.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the Democratic divide and how or even if the President can get his two key pieces of legislation through congress, NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joined us today from Santa Barbara.

    Jeff, for those who might be getting lost in the alphabet soup of different pieces of legislation, what's at stake here? We've got multiple things going on multiple tracks.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    There is this bipartisan infrastructure bill, about $1.2 trillion. That's traditional stuff, roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, maybe expanding broadband. That passed the Senate in August with 69 votes, almost unheard of in these polarized times.

    But when it came to the House, the progressives in the House said, we are not voting for this unless we also get from the Senate action on the so-called budget reconciliation bill. That's a much more ambitious bill originally pegged at around $3.5 trillion. That was a kind of progressive wish list, pre-K, free community college, expanded health care, prescription drug prices, action on climate, senior care, child care. But that bill has yet to be created. And so when the action moved to the House, the progressives said we're not voting on infrastructure until or unless we get from the Senate, the budget bill.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Wasn't there supposed to be kind of a deal in place where the infrastructure bill would come up for a vote?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Exactly. And that's when things began to get a little weird. Last week was supposed to be a vote on the infrastructure bill. Speaker Pelosi promised the moderates, you'll get that vote. But when it came time to bring the votes to the floor, she didn't have the votes. The progressives said we are not voting for that bill without the budget bill also. And so she had to pull the bill. And then when President Biden came to talk to the House Democrats, he sided with the left. He said that's right, no infrastructure bill without the budget bill.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    It seems the tension here is between Senators Sinema, Manchin, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Manchin has said I'm not going anywhere near a three and a half trillion dollar figure. We don't know what Senator Sinema wants. And so right now, there's no actual bill that tells us what's in it, how extensive are these social legislation breakthroughs? What's the cost and how is it going to be paid for? Because that's the trap the Democrats right now are in.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are the political implications here? What's at stake if this goes forward, doesn't go forward?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Joe Biden came to the presidency with two arguments. I can make the government work in this age of polarization, and I can deliver programs that will make life better for poor and middle-class people. That's the essence of what I, Joe Biden, think the Democratic Party is about. If they come out of this session with nothing, the implications for the midterms next year are enormous.

    But it ought to be said that because the Democrats know this, we should not assume that this dumpster fire, whatever analogy you like, is the end of the story. They've got a month to negotiate this and the fear of a midterm disaster and the fear of a resurgent Trump possible new presidency is probably going to be the greatest impetus to get these Democrats to figure out what the compromise is. All right. It won't be three and a half trillion. Maybe it'll be two trillion. Maybe we can expand child care as much as we want, but we'll expand it as much as the political realities will let us. That's what's at stake in the coming weeks.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you, Hari.

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