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Jayapal says progressives don't have "red line" for cost of reconciliation bill

No "red line" for reconciliation bill cost
No "red line" for reconciliation bill cost 10:59

Washington — Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview with CBSN's Tanya Rivero on Thursday that she and her progressive colleagues do not have a "red line" on the price tag for President Biden's proposal to expand the nation's social safety net, as Democratic leaders continue to search for consensus on the package.

"It all depends on what's in there. That's why we're not giving any red line numbers on price tag, because the way that we came up with $3.5 [trillion] originally was by saying, this is what we want to include," said Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington.

Senate Democrats reached a deal this summer on the $3.5 trillion price tag for the social spending package, which includes Democrats' and Mr. Biden's plans to expand Medicare, for paid family leave, free community college and universal pre-K. But Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both moderate Democrats, have pushed back on the topline figure, arguing it is too high.

Their opposition has complicated passage of the president's plan in the evenly divided Senate, as Democrats need support from all of their members in the upper chamber for the package to pass. Democrats are using a budget tool called reconciliation to fast-track the sweeping plan, which enables Senate approval without any Republican support.

Democrats' internal squabbling over the social spending measure reached a fever pitch last week, as the House prepared to vote on a more targeted $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already cleared the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled the vote on the infrastructure plan to appease moderate House Democrats who wanted it to pass immediately, but the vote was delayed after Jayapal and her caucus threatened to derail the legislation, as they want the larger package to pass the Senate first.

Now, Democrats have returned to their original two-track strategy for moving both pieces of legislation, which make up Mr. Biden's domestic policy agenda, through Congress together.

The president has spent the week holding virtual meetings with groups of House Democrats, Jayapal among them, and dispatched senior aides to Capitol Hill to meet with senators with hopes of brokering a deal on the details of the social spending plan. Mr. Biden also met with Manchin at the White House on Thursday, and has hit the road to pitch his economic agenda to the American people, visiting Michigan on Tuesday and Illinois on Thursday.

While the president set a price range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion for the wide-ranging social safety net package, Jayapal said Democrats first need to agree on what programs will be included in the bill and how long they should be funded.

"We would be willing to trim the number a little bit by cutting back the years for some of these programs, but we want to make sure our priorities as we've articulated them are all contained within the bill," she told CBSN.

Jayapal said she believes Mr. Biden is on board with scaling back the number of years for which programs are funded in order to lower the package's price tag, which would ensure Democrats don't have to pick and choose which policies they want to include.

"We can't pit child care against pre-K. We can't pit pre-K against climate change. We can't pit housing against immigration," the Washington Democrat said. "So all of these priorities need to be in there, and I think we're kind of coalescing around that, but obviously it does depend on what's in there, how it's structured and how much money it will cost."

Jayapal lamented that while nearly all Democrats in Congress and Mr. Biden were on board with the $3.5 trillion package, the party's narrow majorities in both chambers requires support from every one of its members. 

Still, she said she believes Manchin and Sinema — the two holdouts over the $3.5 trillion price tag — have been negotiating "in largely good faith."

"I would like that to be more quick. I would like them to recognize that they're just two senators and 96% of Democrats in the House and Senate and the president agree," Jayapal said.

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