Democrats Say They Agree On A Loose Framework To Pay For Their Spending Agenda

Sep 23, 2021
Originally published on September 23, 2021 7:08 pm

The White House and congressional Democrats have reached an agreement on a framework to pay for a final spending package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Thursday.

But that's where the details stopped. Pelosi and Schumer didn't offer any specifics on the framework or the amount of revenue they seek to get to pay for the measure.

The remarks at a news conference came after President Biden met with nearly two dozen congressional Democrats on Wednesday to discuss the spending package, which contains the bulk of his domestic agenda.

Biden is calling for $3.5 trillion in spending on his social policy goals, but some more moderate Democratic members of Congress oppose that level of spending.

Biden had endorsed "all" of the options outlined Thursday by Pelosi and Schumer, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. Psaki called the framework a "menu of revenue raisers" that will pay for the spending agreement.

She added that the White House will let the process of what's in the package play out.

She said that "there is broad unity on the importance of lowering costs for Americans" on an array of issues, including child care and elder care, universal pre-kindergarten and the cost of college.

Such announcements are aimed, at least in part, at pressuring people within the broad Democratic tent to give up their divisions and get on board and send the message that everyone's demands are being heard.

Democrats have been under pressure to make progress on a number of fronts, including keeping the government funded past this month and raising the debt limit.

Senate Republicans said they'll support the federal spending extension but not the debt limit measure. Democrats want Republicans to vote for the debt limit hike because they say both parties are responsible for the debt and they both should be responsible for making sure payments are made to avoid default.

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Top Democrats on Capitol Hill said today that they had reached an agreement that could break up a political stalemate on spending. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER: The White House, the House and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement.

CORNISH: But that's where the details stopped. Leaders didn't say what was in the framework or how it would be executed, and they have a rapidly approaching deadline to get their work done. NPR Congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following all this and is here to unpack it all.

Welcome back, Kelsey.


CORNISH: So to set the stage, this is actually a stalemate within the party.

SNELL: Right.

CORNISH: What did Schumer have to say? And were there any footnotes to this framework if there weren't details?

SNELL: No, it was extremely vague. And I guess to start with, the problem that they're trying to solve is that President Biden is calling for $3.5 trillion in spending, and moderates within the Democratic Party don't want to spend that much money. And they don't fully agree on all of the elements in the bill, particularly the ways that the House Democrats came up - you know, that they want to pay for it.

So now leaders are saying that they have a framework to solve that problem. And the clearest description that I got from a senior aide was that it is a menu of options for financing spending that the White House can present to moderates. That is the clearest answer I've gotten.

CORNISH: OK. Let's play ball on that analogy then.

SNELL: (Laughter).

CORNISH: What's on the menu?

SNELL: All right. Well, if we're going to stick with that framing of a menu, they're essentially saying that they have an internal list of ingredients. In this case, it's taxes, fees and other revenue-raisers that they all - all these Democrats - agree could be used in some quantity as part of this spending package.

Once they, you know, design the bigger picture - how much they want to spend - they'll go through and mix and match the individual tax ideas and fee ideas to make sure they pay for it. So it's going to be kind of a process of, like, a jigsaw puzzle, putting together taxes and spending that everyone can agree on to get to a spending target that everybody can agree on.

CORNISH: Now, Democrats keep saying that members of the party agree on the goals and the policies. That's the language, right?

SNELL: Right.

CORNISH: So then why is this so difficult?

SNELL: Well, this is kind of one of the dynamics of the Democratic Party right now. You know, they have a big party with a wide range of ideas. But the flip side of that is when there are a wide range of fiscal views, it makes it really hard to figure out exactly how to execute big, sweeping ideas like the policies in this package. You know, it's one thing to support things like paid family leave and universal pre-K, and then it's another thing entirely for these members of Congress to agree on hiking taxes on their own constituents. And it gets more complicated for members who were narrowly elected or are going to be in very difficult races next year.

Announcements like the one today are kind of aimed at pressuring people to give up their divisions and get on board. But it also kind of sends the message that leadership is listening to everyone, and all of their demands are being heard and taken into account.

CORNISH: Besides the messaging, does it actually solve the problem?

SNELL: You know, it's really not clear yet. There are supposed to be meetings between the White House and moderates like Arizona Democrats Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. Here's how White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained it.


JEN PSAKI: It's important to have those discussions with the range of important leaders, including Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin - a range of members - about what those menu of options of revenue-raisers look like. That's exactly the process that's going to happen over the short term.

SNELL: So again, not a lot of detail here, but the House Budget Committee chairman John Yarmuth says the House will vote on a package next week before sending it back to the Senate.

CORNISH: And in the background, the threat of a government shutdown. What's going on there?

SNELL: Well, it's another pressing deadline, but this time, it's not a self-imposed deadline like they are facing with all of this spending. Federal spending is set to run out at the end of the month, which is, you know, next week. Democrats passed a bill to extend current federal spending levels through December 3, but they tied it to a debt limit suspension until the end of next year. Senate Republicans say that they will support federal spending extension but not the debt limit measure. Democrats want Republicans to vote for it all.

One way Democrats could resolve it is to, you know, remove the debt limit from the government spending and put it in their big, broad spending package. So there are a lot of details out there still to be worked out.

CORNISH: NPR's Kelsey Snell making this all sound exciting. Thanks so much.

SNELL: (Laughter) Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.