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Open warfare breaks out between liberals and moderates over Biden agenda

The Biden agenda has entered a pivotal stage on Capitol Hill as House Democrats run up against a looming September 27 deadline to vote on a $1 trillion Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Progressives have vowed not to vote in favor of the bipartisan bill unless a far larger economic package with a price tag of up to $3.5 trillion moves in tandem. But that package has become bogged down over disputes among Democrats over the cost as well as policy details, leaving both priorities in jeopardy.

Progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN on Monday that she is a “no” on the $1 trillion infrastructure package on September 27 if the House and Senate have not approved the larger, Democratic-only economic package by then. But there’s virtually no chance the larger bill — which progressives want pegged at $3.5 trillion — can pass both chambers by next Monday given the divisions within the party and constraints about moving through the legislative process quickly.

Ocasio-Cortez did not hold back in her criticism of moderates within her own party, saying, “You have a very small destructive group of members who want to hold the entire country’s agenda hostage for an arbitrary date. And this is not, it’s not representative of the agenda of the caucus, it’s not representative of the agenda of the President, and we need to stay focused on the original, on the original process that allowed us to move forward in the first place.”

The congresswoman added: “And so, you know, I would hope that we figure out something in that time. But once again, I’m more than happy to vote for the infrastructure bill, if we’re able to figure out a way to bring it up in, in a concurrent fashion with reconciliation.”

Asked about the prediction by moderates that the liberals are bluffing, she said: “Well, I’m happy to show my cards.”

The challenge facing congressional Democratic leaders all along has been whether they can hold together the competing ideological factions within their party to pass both the bipartisan bill and the far more sweeping legislation that Democrats hope to pass on a party line vote using a process known as reconciliation to sidestep the Senate filibuster. The larger package is set to address a wide range of issues from health care to the climate crisis.

To make that strategy work, leadership has been trying to move both priorities in tandem, a goal that looks ever more difficult as major sticking points remain and have yet to be resolved.

At the same time, key moderates who are resistant to passing the $3.5 trillion passage that liberals want to see enacted are showing no signs of backing down.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, an influential moderate who has said he does not support a $3.5 trillion price tag, made clear in an interview with CNN on Monday that he wants Democratic leaders to slow things down dramatically.

“You know what I said? I said let’s wait and see whatever we need. We need to have a good idea. The main thing is inflation, if it’s transitory or not, you have a better idea, you know, once we get into it a little bit longer, but right now inflation is still high, and now we understand that natural gas prices are higher than they’ve ever been, in West Virginia, too, and the people who end up paying the highest is the ones that can’t afford it. So we got to worry about all these things,” he said.

The West Virginian has floated a potential topline number for the larger package of between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion. Manchin again declined to say on Monday whether he’d be willing to go over $2 trillion in a total price tag.

Manchin said that his meeting with President Joe Biden last week was “very good,” but wouldn’t say if they were close to a deal. “We’re just still working through everything.”

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