Susan Ferrechio

Democrats may have to scrap a Halloween deadline for advancing a massive social welfare spending package thanks to internal fighting over the size and cost of the measure.

The House and Senate return to session next week and will have only 10 legislative days to meet an Oct. 31 deadline set to pass both the social welfare spending package and a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The two measures, which make up the entirety of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, are in doubt.

White House officials and Democrats are eager for Biden to sign the bills into law in order to provide the party with a legislative victory amid sagging presidential poll numbers and a growing threat the GOP will win back Congress in 2022.

But internal infighting has escalated since Biden told the party it would have to scale back the package drastically.

In an interview Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t commit to the Oct. 31 date she set just weeks ago.

“We’ll bring the bill to the floor when we have the votes to bring the bill to the floor,” the California Democrat told reporters at a San Francisco event touting the still-unwritten legislation.

Biden told Democrats last month their plan to pass a $3.5 trillion spending bill would have to be scrapped and rewritten to fit a lower price tag of roughly $2 trillion. He reiterated on Friday: “I’ll be honest with you, we’re probably not going to get $3.5 trillion this year.”

The cuts are aimed at winning over the Senate’s centrist holdouts, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, but they have provoked an intraparty frenzy over how to shrink the bill.

Democrats planned for the bill to fund a wide array of new government programs, including free preschool, free community college, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits, additional Obamacare subsidies, aggressive green energy policies, and much more.

But now Democrats must slash at least $1.5 trillion in spending.

Progressives, who make up the majority of Democrats in the House and the Senate, have drawn red lines on preserving key spending priorities that could make it impossible to slim down the bill enough to win over Manchin, who insists publicly he’ll only vote for a bill costing a maximum of $1.5 trillion and almost certainly will not agree to a bill much higher than $2 trillion.

Those on the far Left begun attacking Manchin and Sinema publicly, exposing an ugly party rift that top leaders have tried to downplay.

“Ah yes, the Conservative Dem position: ‘You can either feed your kid, recover from your c-section, or have childcare so you can go to work — but not all three. All 3 makes you entitled and lazy,'” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and liberal superstar. “But fossil fuel $, keeping Rx prices high, & not taxing Wall St are non-negotiable.”

Progressive Democrats are also resisting efforts by Manchin and Sinema to change key policy provisions.

Manchin, for example, wants fossil fuels included in extended energy tax breaks and is calling for Democrats to set up a means-testing formula to ensure only the neediest have access to new government programs and financial assistance.

“Means testing is a bad policy and bad politics,” Democratic Reps. Mondaire Jones of New York and and Katie Porter of California wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week. “In theory, means testing excludes the undeserving rich; in practice, it often excludes the most vulnerable poor, who aren’t always able to jump through the required hoops to prove their eligibility.”

Lawmakers are also battling Manchin on climate policy. The coal state’s former governor, Manchin is pushing back on policy changes aimed at ending the use of fossil fuels, which he believes is unrealistic and dangerous to the economy.

But Democrats have been eager to eliminate fossil fuel tax breaks for decades and want to put policies in place to implement renewable energy.

They see the social welfare package as their best chance at accomplishing their climate goals.

In a letter to Biden, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva urged the president to ensure “essential climate investments” remain in the bill, including “meaningful steps to get the United States taxpayer out of the fossil fuel business.”

But Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and wants to preserve tax breaks for fossil fuels, including natural gas and coal. And Manchin wants his own committee to author any clean energy language that ends up in the bill, setting up a battle with certain House Democrats.

Some Democrats are suggesting the bill cut Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposal to expand Medicare to include hearing, vision, and dental benefits. Sanders, who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee and helped author the original $3.5 trillion measure, said he will not accept leaders stripping the new Medicare benefits out of the bill.

Pelosi has remained silent on how she plans to sort out the infighting and trim back the bill. She told fellow Democrats last week the bill could be cut by doing “fewer things well,” but following pushback, she suggested the price could be reduced by shortening the time frame for the programs within the package.

Pelosi is trying to figure out how to keep Democrats together as they fight over whether to do less or simply cut back spending while maintaining all of the programs on their wish list.

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“The fact is, there are fewer dollars to spend, there are choices to be made,” Pelosi said. “The members have said, ‘Let’s get the results that we need, but we will not diminish the transformative nature of what it is,’ while some members have written back to me and said, ‘I want to do everything.’ So we’ll have that discussion.”

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