Joe Biden conceded on Friday that the final version of his sweeping social policy and climate change initiative – often referred to as the $3.5tn reconciliation bill – would not be $3.5tn.
“We’re not going to get $3.5tn. We’ll get less than that,” Biden said, during an event at the Capitol Child Development Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
“But we’re gonna get it, and we’re gonna come back and get the rest.”
The White House and Democratic leaders are racing to trim the bill to win the support of centrist holdouts, senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, without whom the measure cannot pass. Both have balked at the top-line figure, but infuriated their colleagues by not providing more specifics on what they will and will not support in the bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently acknowledged the reality during a press conference earlier this week. “The fact is, that if there are fewer dollars to spend there are choices to be made,” she said.
As Democrats race to chisel the bill down to about $2tn, they must decide whether to keep the sweep of the programs proposed in the legislation – paid family leave, child care, community college, Medicare expansion – with shorter funding periods or narrow the scope and fund fewer programs longer. In his remarks on Friday, Biden offered a glimpse of where the negotiations stood, warning that his proposal for free community college might not make the cut.
“We’re going to get something less than that, but I’m going to negotiate,” Biden said. “But I’m going to get it done with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors and the crick not rising.”
In his speech, which focused on how the bill would make childcare and education more affordable, Biden spoke about his own experience raising two young boys as a single father after the death of his first wife and daughter.
“I could not afford childcare,” he said, recalling his days traveling back and forth between Washington and Delaware, where he lived. “Everybody wonders why I commuted [by train] every day, 265 miles a day, to be back and forth for my children. I could afford the train. It was cheaper.”
At the end of his remarks, Biden said he had been in touch with Bill Clinton, who was hospitalized for an infection and “on the mend”. Knocking on wood, Biden said the former president was “doing well.”