House speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence on Sunday that a deal between Democrats to salvage Joe Biden’s ambitious social agenda was “pretty much there”, paving the way for a possible vote in Congress later this week.
Her upbeat words came as the president was meeting in Delaware with the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic holdout Joe Manchin to put the finishing touches on what has become a scaled-back package central to Biden’s Build Back Better initiative.
Manchin, of West Virginia, was one of two moderate Senate Democrats, along with Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, resisting the original $3.5tn cost of the social spending bill. Manchin had indicated he would be more comfortable with something closer to $1.5tn, and raised objections over Biden’s flagship clean power plan (CPP) that would have imposed emission controls on power companies.
“We will have something that will meet the president’s goals, I feel very confident about that,” Pelosi said on CNN’s State of the Union.
“We’re almost certain [we have a deal], it’s just the language of it. It will not offend, shall we say, the concern that Senator Manchin had about the CPP. The point is to reach your goals, and the president’s goals of reaching the emissions, the pollution and all the rest … there are other ways to reach the goal.”
The Democratic infighting had threatened to upend Biden’s domestic agenda less than a year after taking office. The votes of both Manchin and Sinema, who has insisted she would oppose any effort to reverse Trump-era tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, are crucial in a divided 50-50 Senate.
Adding to the administration’s frustration has been the blocking by Democratic House progressives of a parallel $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate approves the massive social spending package touted by those on the left of the party, particularly the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
Pelosi, who had set a 31 October deadline for the infrastructure bill to pass, did not disclose what elements of the original social safety net bill would have to be compromised or dropped to meet the lower price tag acceptable to the moderates. But she indicated that welfare components such as expanded healthcare and the child tax credit would likely survive.
Possibly on the chopping block, however, were long-held Democratic goals such as paid family leave and expanding Medicare for hearing, vision and dental. Pressed on whether those elements would survive, Pelosi was non-committal, using phrases including: “That’s our hope,” and “That’s what we’re fighting for.”
“Right now Senate leader Schumer, Senator Manchin and the president are having the meeting on some of the particulars that need to be finalized, and I’m optimistic that we can do that,” Pelosi said. “One basket was climate, the jobs bill, a bill for the children, for the future of healthcare, strengthening the affordable care act, expanding Medicaid and Medicare.”
Pelosi also insisted that the administration had “an array” of alternative options to “probably more than pay for the plan” even if Sinema’s opposition ruled out a reversal of the Trump tax cuts.
“We had the rescue package at $1.9tn, we have the infrastructure bill over a trillion dollars, [so] that’s around $3tn. And we’ll have this in at $2tn,” she said. “Nobody has done anything that remarkable. So while it isn’t everything that was put out originally, it takes us down a path where we can continue investments.”
Pelosi was asked if she supported the prosecution and jailing of those who resisted congressional subpoenas to testify before the House committee investigating the 6 January insurrection. Last week the House held Trump ally and former adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for ignoring a subpoena.
“I do,” she said. “People said well, this hasn’t happened before, [but] we haven’t had an insurrection incited by the president of the United States and [with] one of his toadies having advanced knowledge.
“It’s important for us to find the truth about what happened on 6 January and the assault on the constitution, our congress and our capital, but it’s also important in terms of the separation of power and the checks and balances of the constitution.”