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Biden floats $2 trillion price tag for Democrat-only spending package, pushing for cuts to salvage his economic plans

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Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
  • Biden told progressives to come down on the price tag for the party's reconciliation bill.

  • Rep. Henry Cuellar told reporters the president expects a price between $1.9 and $2 trillion.

  • Biden also endorsed progressive calls to push for infrastructure and social spending bills together.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

President Joe Biden suggested a $2 trillion price tag for a social spending plan containing the bulk of his economic agenda, part of an effort to broker a compromise between the party's warring factions and get his agenda over the finish line this year relying on wafer-thin Democratic majorities.

Biden told progressive Democrats on Friday they need to lower their expectations when it comes to the price tag on the party's much-debated spending bill. But he also endorsed their demands for a two-track strategy to approve an infrastructure bill and social spending plans in tandem.

The president prodded his fellow Democrats to support a total cost of between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion on the spending package that once was slated to cost $3.5 trillion, according to Politico.

Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas told reporters Biden said the final number for reconciliation will likely be $2 trillion. Cuellar also said the president "basically linked" the fate of the packages together.

Following a separate meeting of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland hinted at what a final deal could entail, telling reporters he remains "excited" about providing universal pre-K, extending the child tax credit, and cutting tuition at community colleges.

"Maybe not everything can be funded for 10 years, maybe it's going to be a lesser period of time," Raskin said. "But at least we'll be able to develop these programs and make a commitment in the American people."

Biden's visit reflects a last-ditch effort to get progressives and moderates on the same page after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yanked a vote on his bipartisan infrastructure bill the day before in the face of a progressive rebellion. They're demanding the passage of a larger social spending plan aimed at combating the climate emergency, securing affordable childcare and tuition-free community college first before clearing the traditional infrastructure package.

But intraparty infighting this week stalled much of Biden's economic agenda and threatened to sink it. Biden told lawmakers during Friday's meeting that the infrastructure bill "ain't going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation," Politico reported.

The president reportedly stressed that even a bill that costs less than $3.5 trillion "can make historic investments."

Pelosi gambled big earlier this week, telling the caucus the infrastructure bill had to be passed even though the spending package was far from winning approval in the Senate. She said Democrats needed to make "difficult choices" given there was still no agreement on a final, smaller price tag for the larger anti-poverty bill.

The California lawmaker's plan triggered a progressive revolt that at least for the moment, put Biden's economic agenda in jeopardy. Without passage of the Democrat-only spending plan, progressive Democrats vowed to tank the infrastructure bill.

The infrastructure bill is a priority for centrists eager to start getting federal money out to repair roads and bridges, upgrade ports and strengthen broadband connections. Many House moderates also want to campaign on it in the 2022 midterms.

But progressives were never convinced centrists would negotiate a sizable reconciliation package, which is traveling through a process skirting unified GOP opposition and requiring only a simple majority vote. They argued the current $3.5 trillion price tag was already a compromise after most Democrats sought $6 trillion in spending over 10 years.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat holdout, confirmed Thursday he's seeking a plan that doesn't cost more than $1.5 trillion.

Still, Biden is insisting Democrats will be able to unite around both measures to revamp the nation's physical infrastructure and strengthen the social safety net. "It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days or six weeks," Biden told reporters. "We're gonna get it done."

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