Key U.S. Democratic lawmakers remained at odds Sunday on how to approve both infrastructure improvements in the country and the biggest social safety net expansion in five decades, but the leading progressive signaled there was room for compromise.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has for months pushed for a $3.5 trillion plan calling for climate control measures, universal pre-kindergarten classes, expanded health care for older Americans and more. Sanders is an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
He told ABC’s “This Week” show, “I accept that there's going to have to be give and take.”
He declined to put a price tag on how much spending he would settle for, the same stance taken by another leading advocate for the social safety net legislation, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of the western state of Washington, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show.
"There's no number on the table yet that... everyone has agreed to," Jayapal said, but said that $1.5 trillion proposed by centrist Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is "too small to get our priorities in."
President Joe Biden, in a rare visit to the Capitol on Friday to meet with Democratic members of the House of Representatives, suggested the eventual cost could be trimmed to between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion for the social safety net measure, in addition to the trillion-dollar infrastructure legislation to repair the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and expand broadband internet service throughout the United States.
The U.S. leader has continued to advocate for passage of both pieces of legislation in tandem with each other.
Sanders said, “Poll after poll shows that what we are doing is exactly what the American people want. It is not what the big money interests want, it is not what the lobbyists want. It’s what the American people want, and we’ve got to do it.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic-controlled House, twice last week postponed a vote on the roads and bridges infrastructure measure. The move followed a threat from several dozen progressive lawmakers to vote against it until they had won assurances that Senate Democrats would also approve the social safety net spending. Pelosi has now set an October 31 deadline for completing passage of the two measures.
In the politically divided Senate, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, two moderate Democrats, Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag for the social safety net expansion that would be the biggest in the U.S. since the 1960s.
On Saturday, Sinema assailed the Democratic congressional leadership for delaying the infrastructure vote last week, calling the decision “inexcusable” and “deeply disappointing.”
“Democratic leaders have made conflicting promises that could not all be kept — and have, at times, pretended that differences of opinion within our party did not exist, even when those disagreements were repeatedly made clear directly and publicly,” Sinema said.
She and Manchin have both held several negotiating sessions with Biden and Democratic congressional leaders to try to iron out differences on the legislation but have yet to reach agreement. Both have said they do not support the $3.5 trillion in spending Biden originally proposed and progressive Democrats supported in the face of unified Republican opposition.
“I’m listening to Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema every day to see where we can get across the finish line,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois told CNN.
Sanders remained optimistic about the eventual passage of both pieces of legislation.
“We’re going to win this,” he told ABC.