WASHINGTON, D.C. – For Democrats, the reconciliation package could be shifting from quantity to quality and more about the bill’s substance rather than the final price tag.
“What’s important about the bill is not the final number, but what we do in it,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said on Friday.
The price tag – initially $3.5 trillion – bringing moderate and progressive Democrats to a stalemate last week as negotiations continue on Tuesday. But leaders are now back at the drawing board after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) signaled support for a scaled-back $1.5 trillion deal, leaving rank-and-file Democrats in a tough position.
“It’s going to take time. It takes a lot of negotiating,” said Rep. Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “That’s what we’re seeing right now.”
Progressives say the reconciliation bill –which includes billions for child and elder care, Medicare expansion, education and more – must be agreed to before they support the companion trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. President Joe Biden and top Democrats insist both bills will pass Congress.
Only Democrats will support the reconciliation package, meaning Congressional Republicans are now going on the offensive. Some top members are focusing on the COVID vaccine penalties for companies that are tucked inside of the bill.
For businesses with 100 or more employees, that includes fine up to $70,000 for per non-vaccinated employee with higher fines for repeat violations, according to Forbes and the bill considered by House Democrats.
“It increases the fine to $700,000 per occurrence,” explained Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. “That’s just the level of craziness within the budget reconciliation.”
For Democrats, the budget process is now a balancing act: finding a price tag both factions support while properly funding new government programs created in the would-be deal.
“We need enough resources to set them up and to get it moving,” Gillibrand said. “Hopefully, that can get us as close to 3.5 (trillion dollars) as possible.”