There are only 10 legislative days left in the month of October. Those are days that Congress will be in session. And the way negotiations are going within the Democratic Party to cut about a trillion and a half dollars from the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, they aren’t even going to come close.
October 31 is a self-imposed deadline, announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the beginning of the month when she was forced to break her promise to centrist Democrats to hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed months ago. At that time, Democratic negotiators hadn’t even been able to agree on what should go in the bill.
And that’s where they are today. The job has been complicated because their president has decided to give in to the centrists and cut a sizable portion of the bill. This has enraged the radicals in the House and Senate who believe every dollar is necessary.
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.
The radicals would rather be right than win. That’s the one saving grace Republicans have going for them. The Democratic left would prefer going down in flames rather than take half a loaf on the spending bill and cut some of their pet initiatives on climate change or prescription drug pricing.
One sticking point in the drug-pricing talks has been a provision of a Democratic House proposal calling for an excise tax of up to 95% on certain eligible drugs when federal negotiators and drugmakers can’t agree on the price.
“We’ve been trying to discourage any talk about that,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D., Calif.), who has introduced legislation with other House Democrats that would allow much narrower Medicare negotiations with drugmakers. He said centrist Democrats are also pushing back on efforts to permit negotiations on drugs during the period known as “exclusivity,” when drugmakers are protected from generic-drug competition.
The radicals want to put a gun to the head of Big Pharma even before they’ve made back any of their billion-dollar investment to bring a drug to market.
The Democrats’ problem is sheer numbers. They can’t afford to lose a single vote in the Senate and they can lose just three votes in the House. And with radicals demonstrating the stupidity to prefer losing on an entire bill if they can’t win on one or two issues, defeat seems a foregone conclusion.
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.
“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.”
There’s always a chance that Biden can win over Bernie Sanders, who, though he may be a radical old-line socialist, also wants to see some of his agenda come to life. When Sanders started in politics in Vermont, he was laughed off the stage for some of his ideas.
Now, some of those ideas are poised to become law — if Sanders compromises. It’s a long shot, but even if Sanders and the radicals fail this time, they will try again.