Dems make progress in Biden agenda talks, but agreement may still take time

Congressional Democrats spent Tuesday in a rush trying to work out the contours of a major proposal backed by President Joe Biden that would steer federal dollars toward climate initiatives, expand the U.S. safety net and change some aspects of the American tax system. But whether progressive and moderate Democrats fall in line behind the proposal remains up in the air. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressional Democrats spent this Tuesday in a rush, trying to work out the contours of a major proposal backed by President Biden, that would steer federal dollars toward climate initiatives, expand the U.S. social safety net, and change some aspects of the American tax system.

    But whether progressives and moderates fall in line behind a single proposal remains up in the air tonight.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On Capitol Hill, House Democratic leadership insists a historic deal remains within reach, despite distance between the party's moderates and progressives.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY):

    We have people who have different perspectives. All of those perspectives are being heard and respected, and, at the end of the day, I think we will land in a manner that brings everyone along.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But as negotiations wear on, a number of key issues still remain open. Those include four weeks of paid family leave, Medicare expansion, an expansion of Medicaid in states without it, and taxes, including energy taxes.

    On the House floor, members of the Progressive Caucus made their pitches for a more sweeping piece of legislation.

  • Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM):

    We cannot tell those families who finally received the child tax credit that the clock has struck midnight and they can no longer receive it.

  • Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX):

    Altogether, the Build Back Better agenda will make sure that millions of people in this country and in my home state of Texas gain affordable health care coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On the Senate side, Democratic leadership remained upbeat about reaching a deal soon.

  • Majority Leader Chuck Schumer:

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

    Democrats will keep working until we're able to reach an agreement and pass this transformational legislation.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Senate Democrats need all 50 votes in their caucus, because Republicans remain in lockstep opposition to the reconciliation plan.

  • Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

    This is a 50/50 Senate, a three-seat majority in the House. The American people are not asking for any of this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was optimistic, despite Democrats' slim margins.

  • Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:

    I think what we're talking about here is the realities of governing, negotiating, having 50 members of the Senate, not 60 members of the Senate who are Democrats, and the fact that we are still on track to get a historic package through Congress, without precedent in history.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One of the most difficult of those 50 Senate Democratic votes to secure has been Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He torpedoed some of the proposals in the earlier $3.5 trillion plan, calling for a much narrower package.

    Today, Manchin acknowledged he felt pressure as the Democrat's swing vote.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)):

    This position, I guess I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But when asked about both the reconciliation and infrastructure bills passing in the next few months, he was hopeful.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin:

    I sure do think there's a high probability that's going to happen.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What exactly happens and how long it takes are still unknown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa is here with me now to report on where things stand.

    So, here we go again, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it was just a week ago the Democrats said they thought they would have a framework within days. They have made progress, but you're also talking about it getting more complicated. How so?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    I think the number of marbles on the board increased today. We thought there were just a few open issues. Now there are many. And I'm just going to read through this list of things I heard about today, everything from the methane tax, family leave, Medicare. Vouchers could be in play for the dental component of that.

    Medicaid, prescription drugs, housing money, universal pre-K, SALT, those state and local taxes, all of those are things that are now in open discussion over kind of how big or small they go. So, I think Democrats have opened up more areas.

    Still, I do think they're making closer projects. I think that they will come up with a deal, but it's gotten a little more difficult. One thing they did come out with tonight, though, Judy, they have made a decision taxes, corporate taxes.

    The official proposal now — Democrats say they have agreed, and we know Kyrsten Sinema is on board — on a 15 percent minimum corporate tax. That's just one piece of a larger tax proposal that sort of shows you how much is ahead. And there's still questions about whether or not that infrastructure bill will be attached to this or not.

    Speaker Pelosi and the progressive Pramila Jayapal seem to have different opinions about that issue tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very interesting, and could be significant.

    So, the Democrats had talked about either a framework or a vote on Build Back Better this week. What does it look like?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This has been a strange time.

    Some of these timing estimates have almost seem like fantasyland to many of us who've been covering Congress a long time and our viewers who have been watching. I just do not see how a vote is possible in the Senate this week, a framework perhaps, but they still have a long way to go.

    And to give a picture of how unusual these negotiations are, Judy, usually, there's one or two meetings of key figures. Today, meetings were happening everywhere, ad hoc. For example, I saw Kyrsten Sinema sitting in the president's chair of the Senate running the Senate.

    And in order to speak to her, Senator Elizabeth Warren came up there with Senator Ron Wyden, two key figures on tax policy, to talk to her in the chair of the Senate. Senator Manchin, Senator Sanders found him in the Senate subway and talk to him going down the escalator.

    So things are happening in a very impromptu, unpredictable way. The energy is high to get there. But, at the same time, people are getting tired, and they have to keep that momentum going if they want something in the next few days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whatever happened to behind closed doors and smoke-filled rooms?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, it's still out of earshot. I need them closer to my earshot. So, it's just as bad for me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, following it all, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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