Congress is returning for crunch week, and Democrats have a centrists problem

Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin
(Image credit: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The House and Senate return to session this week, and Democrats have a long checklist of things to do and little or no room for error. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) listed the big priorities Sunday: "Keep the government open. Don't default on the debt. Make sure the president gets a win on the infrastructure bill ... and, obviously the mother of all legislation, the reconciliation package." And, he added, "failure is not an option."

Democratic leaders are expected to unveil a short-term spending bill that would also suspend the debt ceiling, Politico reports, and Republicans have threatened to block it. The House is supposed to vote on the Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, though House progressive leaders have threatened to vote it down unless moderate Democrats first back the reconciliation package, a sweeping bill worth up to $3.5 trillion over 10 years. And the centrist Democrats are already poking holes in the multi-trillion-dollar package.

First. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) told President Biden last week that she won't support a key proposal to lower Medicare drug prices, Politico reports. Sinema — who "ranks as one of Congress' leading recipients of pharmaceutical industry donations, according to an analysis by Kaiser Health News" — also currently opposes a pared-back alternative from House centrists. A spokesman said "Kyrsten is working directly in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden on the proposed budget reconciliation package."

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Then there's Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who will take lead on writing — and scaling back — the climate part of the package, The New York Times reports. "His beloved West Virginia is second in coal and seventh in natural gas production," and "Manchin has received more campaign donations from the oil, coal, and gas industries than any other senator" in the current election cycle. Manchin also made nearly $500,000 last year from a coal brokerage firm he founded. Many progressive Democrats are already irritated at Manchin for insisting they shrink the bill and push back its passage — and also worried he'll sink the entire package.

"Senior Democrats acknowledge the weeks ahead are lined with landmines," Politico reports, but "they argue that members across the party will pull together in the end and not squander a once-in-a-decade chance to enact social reforms such as universal child care, paid family leave, and expanded health care programs."

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