Bernie Sanders remained optimistic on Sunday that Democrats will finally come together this week and pass Joe Biden’s domestic spending and infrastructure agenda, overcoming persistent opposition from two centrist senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
“We have 50 people that we have to get on board,” Sanders, the chair of the Senate budget committee and a leading Washington progressive, told CNN’s State of the Union.
“This is not easy stuff, but what we are trying to do is put together the most consequential piece of legislation in the modern history of this country, which will transform the role of government in protecting the needs of working families.”
The battle to pass both Biden’s spending bill, which seeks to boost support for families in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and priorities including fighting the climate crisis, and a bipartisan infrastructure deal, has damaged the president’s approval rating.
On Sunday, a new NBC News poll found that 54% of adults disapprove of Biden’s performance, down six points since August.
Biden has staked his presidency on domestic success. This week he delayed his departure to the G20 in Rome and Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow to plead with Democrats to pass his spending agenda.
“We are at an inflection point,” he reportedly told Democrats in the House. “The rest of the world wonders whether we can function.”
Whether Democrats can deliver could also have significant implications for their fortunes in the 2022 midterms, given Biden’s repeated promises to improve the lives of working Americans. Historically, parties holding the presidency have struggled to hold on to the House in midterm elections.
Top Democrats want a final version of Biden’s $1.75tn social and environment plan drafted by Sunday and passed by Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. The price tag has come down dramatically, from $3.5tn, with a series of concessions to Manchin and Sinema. The infrastructure deal is valued at $1tn.
Discussions between White House, House and Senate officials continued over the weekend. Sanders told CNN: “I can tell you, we are working right now. I spent all of yesterday on the telephone … as soon as I leave the studio, I’m going to be going back home to get on the phone.”
Sanders repeatedly said he was fighting for action on prescription drugs costs to be included in the final spending bill, an issue on which he and Sinema are in very evident opposition.
In a 50-50 Senate, and with no Republican support for the domestic spending plan, the support of Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sinema, from Arizona, is essential. Democrats must use reconciliation, a way to pass budgetary initiatives via a simple majority rather than 60 votes as is required for most legislation. The vice-president, Kamala Harris, has the decisive vote.
The Senate did pass the proposed infrastructure legislation in August via a bipartisan vote but House progressives have stymied that bill in an attempt to make moderates support the social and environmental plan.
Members of the Biden administration also expressed optimism on Sunday, when asked about their party’s ability to come together. The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told Fox News Sunday: “We are teed up for major action soon.”
Asked if Congress would pass both pieces of legislation this week, he said: “We are the closest we have ever been.”
Buttigieg also made a political point sure to surface in the midterms if Biden is successful, telling ABC’s This Week he “wouldn’t let Republicans off the hook on voting for the family provisions too.
“I know they probably won’t but it’s not too late for some of them to join Democrats who are united in believing that the time has come for us to actually put our money where our mouth is.
“Support American families and do it with a fairer tax code that rewards work not wealth, that asks corporations to pay their fair share, and that makes this a fairer system for everybody.”
A Republican senator, Rick Scott of Florida, told Fox News Sunday Biden’s spending had “to end” as it was “causing inflation” and “hurting the poor families, it’s not hurting the rich… we gotta live within our means like every family does”.
Asked by his host, Chris Wallace, if that meant Republicans should support repeal of tax cuts they passed under Donald Trump which are predicted to add $2tn to the national debt, Scott said both taxes and spending should be cut.
On NBC’s Meet the Press the energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, suggested Biden’s approval rating would be boosted when Americans see what is in his spending bill.
“Once people see this,” Granholm said, “they’ll see that they’re going to get a continuation of that child tax credit. They’ll see people being put to work in clean energy all across this country.
“They’re going to see the ability to have senior citizens and people with disabilities being cared for in their homes. They’ll see their costs of living come down as a result of having children. This, to me, this bill and the real impacts that people will see, will have an impact on those ratings.
“And you know what? The president is focused on the middle class and the working class. And once they see that they don’t have to pay one dime for it, if you make less than $400,00 a year, and they get the benefits, we’re starting to rewrite this income inequality that has been plaguing this country and really held us back.”