Democrats are desperately trying to make lemonade out of the bag of lemons Joe Manchin handed them Thursday.
Senate Democrats spun away Manchin’s utter rejection of their $3.5 trillion spending dreams and embrace of a $1.5 trillion plan as a positive development, saying that it offered them a path forward for negotiation on a potential deal. When that deal will come to fruition, however, is anyone’s guess.
And that still leaves some Democrats pretty sour about the whole affair, as progressive aspirations face their second major setback. Their original goal was $6 trillion earlier this year, which slipped to $3.5 trillion this summer and could now drop by more than half.
Manchin delivered another dose of reality Thursday to his Democratic colleagues, after POLITICO obtained an internal memo he provided to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer back in July, which outlined his demands for Democrats’ social spending package. The party used the previously scheduled caucus lunch to get on the same page.
Democrats appeared tense as they entered the private meeting, but inside the room, the atmosphere was “weirdly chill” as one attendee put it. Manchin didn’t even take part in the lunch. Yet much of the conversation was focused on Democrats’ path forward both on their social spending plan and the upcoming fight with Republicans over raising the debt limit.
“There’s a sense of optimism about ‘we’ll get there,’ but the point of frustration and lack of clarity is: How soon,” said Sen.Tim Kaine (D-Va.) “I encouraged everybody: ‘The time is now for a deal.’”
The discussions come as President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda teeters, with the fate of the bipartisan physical infrastructure package unclear in the House and moderates like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) still engaging in negotiations with the White House over the social spending plan.