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White House, House Democrats Agree On A Framework To Pay For Their Spending Plan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Congressional Democrats have agreed on something. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday they've come to an agreement with the White House on a framework for how they're going to pay for their budget plan. They are discussing that giant bill that contains much of President Biden's agenda. Pelosi says the big ideas have been worked out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: It's not about a price tag. It's about values, not dollars.

INSKEEP: OK. She's saying, apparently, the question is how to spend federal money, not how much, although how to spend the money is still unsettled. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us. Kelsey, good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

INSKEEP: When I saw the headline of this agreement yesterday, I was confused. I thought, oh, well, they've reached an agreement with these moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats - have been disagreeing, and we've been hearing on the program. But then I found it doesn't actually include any of them. So who's agreed on what?

SNELL: Well, it sounds like leaders in the House and leaders in the Senate have agreed with the White House about things they're going to talk to the moderates and progressives about.

INSKEEP: OK.

SNELL: You know, there are a lot of moving parts yesterday. And so they announced this idea of a framework on revenue, and they didn't give us any details. Staffers I talked to later followed up to clarify that it's more of a menu of options that leaders agreed to so that the White House could negotiate with moderates, who want a smaller bill that's fully paid for.

INSKEEP: A menu?

SNELL: (Laughter) Yeah, so let's accept their metaphor of a menu and say that this framework is like they all decided to go out to lunch. They all agree on the general scope. So in our case, they all agree they're going to go to Chipotle. But they're still figuring out what they're having. Is it a giant $3.5 trillion burrito, or is it something smaller?

INSKEEP: That's some burrito. But please go on.

SNELL: Right. So (laughter) they also have to figure out what ingredients they want and how much they want to add - some taxes, some fees. They're kind of mixing and matching to get it right until they're paying for the entire bill. OK, but in all seriousness, this is actually kind of how big legislation comes together. Democrats are talking about some really expensive proposals - paid family leave, universal pre-K, permanent monthly child tax credit payment. That's one really big bill or really big burrito. Democrats agree on those ideas in concept, but it's much harder to agree on the right combination of tax hikes and fees that will fall on a member's own constituents. You know, it gets even more complicated for members who were narrowly elected in the first place.

INSKEEP: I feel like when you tell me that they came up with a menu, they're trying to say to members, OK, guys, actually decide. Just pick something. Pick something off this list. Don't just keep objecting.

SNELL: They're also saying a little bit that they're listening, that they are - you know, they have heard the objections from moderates and progressives and that they are trying to create an inclusive package. Whether or not it winds up being super inclusive, they want people to feel like they have buy-in.

INSKEEP: I hate to say the year is ending 'cause it's only September. But, I mean, the legislative year isn't actually that much longer. And this is the time they have to pass this giant bill. What's their timeline?

SNELL: Well, they have said that they want to try to do a vote on the separate bipartisan infrastructure bill this coming Monday. And it was kind of tied for progressives to getting this specific bill done. And Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said he expects the House will vote on the bigger spending package, whatever that will end up being, sometime next week. Oh, and by the way, this is also happening as Congress is trying to avoid a government shutdown next week and suspend the debt limit.

INSKEEP: No suspense. Is this kind of normal for them, though?

SNELL: I mean, it is pretty typical for Congress to set deadlines to kind of force decision-making, like you mentioned. But these are really deep and fundamental divisions between Democrats. And there aren't a lot of clear solutions so far.

INSKEEP: And Democrats, of course, need virtually all of their own votes.

SNELL: That's right.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.