Podesta Urges Democrats to Scale Back $3.5 Trillion Bill

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 addressed to every Democratic member’s office, Mr. Podesta, founder and chairman of the Center for American Progress’ board of directors, urged moderates and progressives to work together 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 was also harsh on moderates who had resisted the social security net package. He pushed for the passage instead of a $1 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill. This bill has already passed the Senate and will go to the House for a 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.”

On Wednesday, a large number of Democratic legislators will be heading to the White House to discuss with Mr. Biden the fate of the bills. This is expected to happen in the coming 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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