How Biden’s legislative agenda is faring in Congress

Negotiations over Democrats' multi trillion-dollar work and family bill continue on Capitol Hill. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins provides an update on the state of play.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Negotiations are heating up on Capitol Hill today over President Biden's multitrillion-dollar work and family bills.

    Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, is here to update us on the state of play.

    So, Lisa, you have been reporting all day long. Give us the latest.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, Congress is back this week from a recess. And talks are beginning in earnest, and especially around the White House.

    President Biden is meeting one-on-one with Democrats who are critical, today with Pramila Jayapal, who we had on the program. She represents the progressive wing.

    But a lot of focus remains on the U.S. Senate. And there is, in particular, one aspect of what Biden wants and what many progressives want that now seems to be in jeopardy. And that involves the climate change portion of this reconciliation bill, as we call it, the Build Back Better Biden bill.

    I want to talk about this. This involves Senator Joe Manchin and some objections he has. So, to explain this snag, this is the Clean Energy Performance Program, a lot of syllables there, but that essentially is a program that would make it so that utility companies would either be rewarded or penalized based on how much renewable energy they use, trying to move them toward 100 percent renewable energy, ultimately.

    They would be penalized if they don't go there. It's essentially a creative way to try and put a cost on carbon. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, critical vote in the U.S. Senate, objects to this. No surprise why. His state, West Virginia, is powered 91 percent by coal, and would stand to lose something as this deal stands right now.

    Environmentalists say, however, this particular aspect, this way of trying to charge a cost for coal and other fossil fuels, it's a third of the climate impact, sort of the reduction in emissions that they want. They say it's a critical part of helping to deal with this planet.

    Essentially, what you see here is a fight between sort of short-term job needs in places like West Virginia and long-term health of the planet that's really playing out right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have a number of Democratic senators pushing back, including Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's correct.

    And I also want to raise — start with another senator. This is one of the problems here, is that, while Joe Manchin says he likely can't support deal with this idea of a carbon cost in it, here's what some other senators are saying, other Democrats, Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota.

    She tweeted out on Friday she can't support a bill that won't get to where they need to be on emissions. So this is a problem for Democrats to solve. They have people who think it doesn't have enough, people who think it has too much. And then you have someone going on offense.

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont really wants an aggressive climate bill, aggressive on many fronts, writing in Joe Manchin's newspaper an op-ed on Friday in "The Gazette-Mail," saying: "We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont, and the entire country."

    And this isn't new. Bernie Sanders has been going on conservative airwaves. He's been in places like Indiana trying to sell this deal. But he clearly is targeting Senator Manchin's state. Senator Manchin reacted to it quickly over the weekend, on Saturday. He was not pleased.

  • He wrote:

    "This is not the first time an out-of-stater has tried to tell West Virginians what is best for them, despite having no relationship to our state."

    Now, sometimes these feuds, Judy, are political, right, and people need to vent. They need to get out there emotions and concerns. I think this is a little personal for Senator Manchin. And I think it is going to be part of the dynamics that will play out in coming weeks and could be important.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you could almost see that one coming.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Lisa, meanwhile you have this division going on. But then you have Speaker Pelosi saying she wants to get this legislation moving by the end of the month.

    Today is October the 18th.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's still the goal, technically, from talking to Democrats on both sides of the Capitol.

    But let's look at what the calendar is reality. The reason October 31 is significant is because that is when the highway authorization bill, those programs expire. Right now, they're just temporarily extended for a month. They end on the 31st. Those would be renewed in that large infrastructure bill. But if that — nothing can pass if both bills aren't moving.

    Here's the issue. Now we have just seven weeks left until December 10, which is the end date supposedly for this Congress. Now, it seems like a lot to you and I. But a lot of our viewers, you know, Congress only meets three days a week, in general. So we're talking about maybe two dozen days that are left in the session for them to figure this out.

    I think we're talking about November, December for getting deals done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will see.

    Lisa Desjardins, thanks very much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

Listen to this Segment