New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Pelosi pushes ahead for $3.5T deal in Congress


WASHINGTON — With President Joe Biden’s government overhaul at risk, Democrats confronted high-stakes trouble Thursday as a promised vote on the first piece, a slimmer $1 trillion public works bill, faltered amid stalled talks on his more ambitious package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was meeting privately with factions of lawmakers throughout the day and Biden cleared his schedule to work the phones, Democrats determined to push ahead, strike a deal over his bigger $3.5 trillion effort and avoid what would be a stunning setback if voting on the public works bill failed or had to be scrapped.

Democrats are deeply at odds, trust torn, as progressiv­e lawmakers threaten to withhold votes on the roads-and-bridges infrastruc­ture bill they view as insufficie­nt unless it is paired with Biden’s broader vision. In the narrowly controlled House, Pelosi has no votes to spare.

All this on a day that was a partial win for Biden and his party with Congress ushering through le gislation to keep the government running past Thursday’s fiscal yearend deadline and avert a federal shutdown that had been threatened by

Republican blockades.

“Step by step,” Pelosi said at the Capitol, suggesting a deal with Biden was within reach.

“This is the path — it’s not a fork in the road,” she said. “This is the fun part.”

The risks are clear, but so is the potential reward as Biden and his party reach for a giant legislativ­e accomplish­ment — promising a vast rewrite of the nation’s balance sheet with an everslim majority in Congress. His idea is to essentiall­y raise taxes on corporatio­ns and the wealthy and use that money to expand government health care, education and other programs — an impact that would be felt in countless American lives.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden was making calls, and she acknowledg­ed the process looked messy from the outside, the “sausage-making” of Capitol Hill.

The public works bill is one piece of that broader Biden vision, a $1 trillion investment in routine transporta­tion, broadband, water systems and other projects bolstered with extra funding. It has won broad, bipartisan support in the Senate but has now become snared by the broader debate.

Attention remains squarely focused on Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia

and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, centrist Democrats who helped steer that bipartisan bill to passage, but are concerned about the overall size of Biden’s plan. They view it as too big, but have infuriated colleagues by not making any counterpro­posals public.

Under scrutiny, Manchin called an impromptu press conference Thursday outside the Capitol, insisting he has been clear from the start — his top line is $1.5 trillion — when in fact he has repeatedly given mixed signals about what he could support.

“I’m willing to sit down and work on the $1.5,“Manchin told reporters, as protesters seeking a bigger package and Biden’s priorities chanted behind him.

Manchin said he told the president as much during their talks this week. Tensions spiked late Wednesday when Manchin sent out a fiery statement, decrying the broad spending as “fiscal insanity” and warning it would not get his vote without adjustment­s.

Sinema was similarly working to stave off criticism and her office said claims that she has not been forthcomin­g are “false” — though she has not publicly disclosed her views over what size package she wants and has declined to answer questions about her position.

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