Fate of Democrats’ $2 trillion tax-and-spend wish list in limbo in Senate

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana on Sunday said Democrats are going to have to be “open to compromise” if they hope to unify the party and pass President Biden’s roughly $2 trillion social safety net bill through the upper chamber.

The spotlight shifted to the Senate on Friday after the House narrowly passed the “Build Back Better” bill on a party-line vote, overcoming unanimous opposition from Republicans.

“I think people need to be open to compromise,” Mr. Tester said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We don’t all see the world the same way.”

That was on display in recent weeks as House Democrats struggled mightily to cobble together a bill to please the various wings of the party.

After lots of arm-twisting and backroom negotiations, the bill passed on a 220-to-213 vote.

The vote came after Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, delivered an 8-hour and 32-minute speech against the bill, making it the longest continuous House speech in modern history.

Rep. Jared Golden of Maine was the only Democrat to vote against the bill.

The proposal faces an uncertain future in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.

Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have refused to sign off on the measure and infuriated liberal progressives by raising concerns about the size and scope of the tax-and-spend plan.

Mr. Biden and his allies have emphasized that the package represents a historic investment in families. The House bill has provisions aimed at curbing climate change and cutting prescription drug costs, in addition to new spending on education and child care. 

It includes four weeks of paid family leave, which Mr. Manchin has been reluctant to support. It also includes new taxes on high-income earners and corporations.

Still, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Mr. Manchin has signaled he is open to compromise on paid family leave and said she hopes he will come around.

“He’s in the driver’s seat on how to pay for these proposals,” the New York Democrat said.

Senate Republicans are unified against the proposal, meaning that Democrats will need every member of their conference to support the bill in order to pass it through the Senate.

Republicans warn the massive spending plan will worsen inflation, making it harder for lower- to middle-class families to make ends meet.

Concerns over inflation have weakened Mr. Biden, according to polls that show his approval rating has been on a downward trajectory.

A CBS News poll released Sunday found that two-thirds of adults nationwide have a negative view of the economy and that 67% of respondents disapprove of the way Mr. Biden has handled inflation.

On Sunday, Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, slapped down the idea that the social safety net bill will increase inflation.

“There is no question inflation is high and it’s affecting American consumers and it is affecting their outlook, but that is actually why we need to move on this Build Back Better bill right now,” Mr. Deese said on Fox News on Sunday. “Experts across the board have looked at it and concluded that it won’t increase inflation because it is paid for. When you pay for investments you don’t actually add aggregate demand to the economy.”

Mr. Deese said Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service have said the bill will not add to inflation and dismissed the criticism that the proposal relies on budget gimmicks.

Mr. Biden and his allies are hoping he will get a political boost from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill he signed into law last week, and another jolt if Democrats can pass his social safety net bill.

The Democrat-controlled House voted to approve the more than 2,000-page bill only hours after the Congressional Budget Office determined it will add upwards of $367 billion to the federal deficit.

The vote came shortly after the CBO, a nonpartisan federal agency, released a report showing it would add more than $367 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.

Mr. Biden has said it would cost “zero” dollars.

Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire on Sunday said “nobody buys” the argument that the multitrillion package will not cost taxpayers anything.

“Washington doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a budget, but somebody has to pay for this,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It’s not just you and me. It’s our kids and grandkids.”

Mr. Tester, meanwhile, said he is optimistic that Democrats can pass Mr. Biden’s plan.

“I think if we compromise like we did in the bipartisan infrastructure package where we had five Democrats and five Republicans that argued, and fought, and came to a bill that would work, I think it’s the same thing within the 50 Democrats, too,” he said. “So let’s negotiate and let’s come up with a bill that lowers costs for families, and cuts taxes, and gets things done to help move this economy forward so we can stay the premier power in the world.”