Podesta Urges Democrats to Scale Back $3.5 Trillion Bill

His message included a blunt call to progressives to accept a scaled-back price tag, in a bow to the party’s centrists.,

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Podesta warns Democrats: Scale back the $3.5 trillion social policy bill or lose Congress.

John Podesta warned Democrats that failing to pass the Biden administration’s social policy plan could have dire consequences for the party. Credit…Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Sept. 22, 2021, 11:36 a.m. ET

John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and an influential figure among Democrats in Washington, called on lawmakers in his party on Wednesday to pare back a proposed $3.5 trillion social policy plan that carries much of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

If they do not, he warned, they risk failure to pass the legislation — and the loss of their congressional majorities next year.

In a memo sent to every office of a Democratic member of Congress, Mr. Podesta, the founder and chair of the board of directors for the Center for American Progress, implored moderates and progressives in dire terms to bridge their differences on the bill. The party’s disputes include tax increases, individual spending programs and the total cost of a plan that would vastly expand the federal government’s role in education, child care, fighting climate change, supporting workers, alleviating poverty and more.

His message included a blunt call to progressives to accept a scaled-down price tag, in a bow to the party’s centrists.

“The political reality is clear, given Democrats have no margin for error in the Senate and a limited margin in the House,” he wrote. “We will not secure the full $3.5 trillion investment. It’s time for Democrats to unite in finding the path forward.”

But Mr. Podesta also had harsh words for moderates who have resisted the social safety net package, pushing instead for the passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed the Senate, and is due for a House vote next week.

“You are either getting both bills or neither — and the prospect of neither is unconscionable,” he wrote. “It would signal a complete and utter failure of our democratic duty, and a reckless abdication of our responsibility. It would define our generation’s history and show that, when our time came, we failed, both for Americans now and in the years to come.”

A large group of Democratic lawmakers is heading to the White House on Wednesday to strategize with Mr. Biden about the fate of both bills, which is likely to be determined in the next few weeks. Mr. Podesta’s warnings reflect a growing fear among some Democrats on and off Capitol Hill that the entire effort could collapse, leaving the party with little to run on in midterm elections and no chance for years to enact ambitious legislation.

“The historical trend makes it clear that Democrats will face severe headwinds next November,” Mr. Podesta wrote, “but nothing will guarantee a political reckoning faster than if the Democrats fail to pass anything.”

Mr. Podesta singled out the bill’s climate provisions, in particular, as critical for a moment when hurricanes and wildfires have slammed people across the nation and laid bare the realities of a warming planet.

“On the climate crisis in particular, the screen is blinking ‘code red,'” he wrote. “There is no time. There is no next time.”

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