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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending


Democratic lawmakers are having a tough time reaching an agreement with themselves as they work to push two enormous bills through Congress - one the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate this summer, the other a $3.5 trillion dollar package that would broaden the nation's social safety net by expanding education, health care and child support, among other things. Joining me now, as she does most weeks, is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the moderate and progressive flanks of the Democratic Party are at odds. Explain.

LIASSON: They're at odds over this big reconciliation bill - the bill they have to pass with Democrat's votes only because Republicans aren't going to vote for it at all. And as you said, it includes proposals on health care, pre-K, child care, climate. The bill is so big and the Democrats' majorities are so small that they can't afford to lose any Democratic votes. And right now, as you said, moderates and progressives are at odds over many things. What should be the size of this bill? What should be in it? What should be the timing of the vote? How to pay for it? And, Lulu, putting aside just the messiness of this intra-party negotiations, the stakes are so high for Democrats. They either find a way to compromise among themselves and deliver both these bills - the physical infrastructure bill, the roads and bridges bill, and the human infrastructure bill, this big reconciliation package. Or they risk losing the next two elections in 2022 and '24 because they are the party that believes government can help people. And if Democrats fail to deliver, they will look completely incompetent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we have another deadline this week over government funding and suspending the debt limit that's heading for a showdown in the Senate. This is a big deal.

LIASSON: This is a big deal. Think of it this way. You have a credit card. You've already charged stuff way over your credit limit - your debt limit. Now you have to ask the credit card company to raise your credit limit. But guess what? The credit card company is you. Congress gets to raise its own, in effect, credit card limit - debt limit. And in the past, raising this limit to cover deficit spending that has already happened - in this case, things like the Trump tax cuts, which were passed by Republicans, or COVID relief bills passed with bipartisan support - those votes were always bipartisan because it's the - you have to do it. If you don't raise the debt limit, the U.S. defaults on its debt and ruins its credit rating. But this time, Mitch McConnell is saying Republicans will not vote for this. They want Democrats to do it alone, so Republicans can weaponize the vote and run political ads accusing Democrats of adding to the debt. This is the kind of thing that makes voters very cynical, but it is certainly a must-pass piece of legislation one way or another.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, I want to turn to something because we got the results of the GOP-backed review of voting in Arizona's largest county during the 2020 election. And, you know, news flash - Biden beat Trump.

LIASSON: (Laughter) Again. Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, no. I mean, I just think it's worth noting that, even though this is hugely discredited as a process, I'm wondering if there's been any fallout over it.

LIASSON: Well, look. This was the audit that was supposed to uncover the fraud that Donald Trump falsely claimed affected ballots in Maricopa County, big county in Arizona. The audit was funded by people who pushed this lie that the vote was rigged. It was conducted by a firm called Cyber Ninjas that had no experience with this type of audit. And they didn't find fraudulent votes. They actually found that Biden won with net more votes than he had in the count in November. Still, Donald Trump issued a statement saying falsely that this audit showed there were enough fraudulent votes to change the outcome of the election four or five times over. And Republicans are planning more of these so-called audits in Wisconsin, Texas and Pennsylvania. This isn't going to go away. These audits are all designed to push the message that any election that Republicans don't win must be rigged.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it doesn't matter, ultimately, what the results of any of these things are.

LIASSON: Well, no, although it is significant that they couldn't find any fraudulent votes. It chips away at this false claim, but it doesn't get rid of it, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.