At a closed luncheon on Tuesday, Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, informed her caucus that she would seek a bipartisan deal with Republicans on an infrastructure package and that she had Biden’s blessing to make that effort, according to three sources in the chamber. .
But after Sinema left the meeting, one Democrat after another embarked on the strategy, expressing deep frustration at what they viewed as a fruitless attempt to reach consensus with Senate Republicans — fear that a bipartisan agreement would be unlikely to support from many in their caucus, reflecting the growing tension between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
“It is impossible for Manchin and Sinema to make a deal that represents the opinion of the caucus,” said a Democratic senator. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Another Democratic senator added, “A group of four or five people should not carry 50 Democratic votes on their backs.”
The Democratic frustration revolves around this fear: They may be wasting their best chance at passing much of Biden’s agenda, while their party controls both chambers of Congress and their majority is at stake during the midterm elections next year. And since the prospects for passing legislation will only get bleaker as the next election approaches, Democrats say now is the time to jettison Republicans and try to get an infrastructure bill done along straight party lines.
But they need the support of Manchin and Sinema, who spent Tuesday night in the Capitol basement trying to make a deal with a handful of GOP senators.
“I’ve been ready for a while to move from duality to key priorities for the Biden administration,” said Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat in Hawaii.
sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said Democrats have a bad history of wasting precious time emanating from the Obama years.
“We have a bad track record,” Whitehouse said.
Democrats seek total unity on multiple fronts
But the dilemma facing Democrats is this: They need the support of all 50 members of their caucus to successfully push their economic agenda through the filibuster-proof budget process — and they don’t have that support from the likes of Manchin and Sinema others. , who want to make a deal with the Republicans instead.
Top Democrats declined to say on Tuesday whether they were confident Manchin and Sinema could find a two-pronged deal that could win their caucus.
“There isn’t much time left in this session,” said Senate Budget Speaker Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and one of the senators who pushed back at Democratic luncheon Tuesday. “I’ve seen no indication that Republicans are willing to support the kind of serious legislation this country needs.”
Indeed, after he left lunch, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also declined to say whether he was confident Sinema-Manchin’s effort could lead to a two-pronged deal to the satisfaction of his caucus.
Instead, he indicated he would let those two-party talks continue, while pursuing an ongoing strategy of moving an infrastructure bill along straight party lines. That would allow talks to continue this month — to see if a bipartisan deal can be reached — before moving forward next month by pushing a bill through the budget reconciliation process, a tactic used by Democrats. to enact the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill earlier this year without GOP support.
But there are strict limits to the provisions that can be included in such a package — as they must be budget-related to meet the Senate’s strict rules — and it would only be passed if all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus agreed. agree.
“We are aiming for a two-way proposal,” Schumer said when asked about the bipartisan talks. “On the one hand, there are bipartisan negotiations, and they continue. … We all know that as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things the country needs in a completely bipartisan, bipartisan way…And so we strive for reconciliation at the same time.”
Schumer’s No. 2 made it clear that the success of the rest of Biden’s agenda rests on successfully navigating the reconciliation process.
“I hope,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin when asked if the agenda boils down to the reconciliation process.
Rest of agenda in danger
Schumer this month paved the way for votes on hot-button issues that don’t have the support of 10 Republicans needed to break a filibuster — namely, on electoral legislation and House bills that stem from gun violence. In addition, Schumer does not have the support within his caucus to change the filibuster rules and lower the 60-vote requirement for advancing legislation to 51 votes.
And the skepticism is wider than just Manchin and Sinema.
sen. New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, a Democrat facing a hard time for reelection next November, has not yet heeded calls to undermine the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, although she has made some changes to how the tactic is used. supports. When asked if she would support lowering the 60 vote threshold, Hassan didn’t answer directly, but did say, “It’s important for us to do as much as we can” in a two-pronged way.
“Not yet,” said Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who is also involved in the bipartisan infrastructure talks, when asked if he supports the filibuster. “I think the filibuster serves a purpose. On the other hand, some people just use it to, you know, block things. And that’s not good.”
sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat who is slated to be re-elected next year, said he has not decided whether he supports a cut in the 60-vote requirement or whether his stance is consistent with Sinema’s opposition to changing the rules.
While Kelly said on Tuesday that he is “generally a supporter of change,” the freshman Democrat said, “I will evaluate any change to our rules, no matter what they are, based on what is in Arizona’s best interest, and the best interest of our country.”
For many Democrats – especially progressives in the House – it continues to infuriate them that moderates in the Senate dictate their party’s ambitions.
Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a leader of the progressive caucus in the House, said it is time for Biden to act.
“The reason we did the US bailout is because the president leaned forward. The longer we let things sit, the more time we give to the opposition, the more time we give to people who just want to procrastinate because they can’t.” doing wants to get something done,” Jayapal said.
Others were just as blunt in directing their anger at the Democrat-led Senate.
“I’m very frustrated,” Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from New Jersey, told CNN on Tuesday. “The Senate is not doing its job.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.