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Huffman, Thompson meet separately with Biden over spending bill, climate measures

Sonoma County’s congressmen, Reps. Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman, met with President Joe Biden at the White House Tuesday as part of separate Democratic factions dueling over a stalled set of ambitious bills dealing with infrastructure, social policy and climate spending.

The two lawmakers with distinct political identities came away with different perspectives.

The goal of both meetings was to reach agreement between moderates, including Thompson, D-St. Helena, and progressives, including Huffman, D-San Rafael, on spending for Biden’s Build Back Better plan, including landmark social safety net, housing, education, health care and climate change provisions. It was initially priced at $3.5 trillion.

“I always thought the $3.5 trillion is a number that wouldn’t get the votes necessary to pass,” Thompson said in a telephone interview following his group’s two and a half-hour meeting, which included three senators and five House members, including Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova.

Amid opposition to key climate provisions by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the White House has moved to “pare back” the legislation Biden has referred to as a “human infrastructure” bill, according to Thompson. He declined to cite a new target number.

“I think it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “It feels like the negotiations are going very well.”

All the programs in the original Build Back Better plan are needed, Thompson said, but the price was “just a big number to swallow.”

Huffman, who serves on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, had a less sanguine reaction, focused on the bill’s climate provisions and the opposition by Manchin, a Democrat from the nation’s second largest coal producing state with personal financial ties to the industry.

A key provision of the bill would incentivize utilities to quickly transition to 100% clean energy “and Joe Manchin doesn’t like it,” Huffman said.

“Can we figure out something that works for Joe Manchin?” he said. “We talked about that today.”

The fate of the more straightforward and bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate has approved also hangs in the balance. The bill includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, but did not include so-called earmarks for some Sonoma County transportation projects.

But Democrats in the House’s Progressive caucus, including Huffman, have said they will continue to resist passing that bill without assurances that the Democrat-controlled Congress will also pass the Build Back Better Act.

The cost of Biden’s climate plan can be adjusted, Huffman said, but the nation must not shirk from reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

His district, spanning the coast from Marin County to Oregon, and Thompson’s which takes in much of the inland North Bay and Lake County, have been ravaged by wildfires, floods, severe heat waves and historic droughts in recent years, all of it taking an enormous toll on lives and livelihoods.

“We’ve got a planetary crisis bearing down on us,” Huffman said. “The one thing we cannot do is give up on our climate goals.”

Progressives are willing to accept an appropriation of less than $3.5 billion, “but we’re much more interested in what’s in (the bill).”

Manchin has said he can only accept a $1.5 trillion package and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, has expressed concerns over the cost without indicating a top number, NPR reported.

Democrats are trying to negotiate the size down to something closer to $2 trillion, the report said.

“It’s a bill that will allow us to make a credible investment in working families and children,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he was pleased that Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen expressed support for including his Green Act, which includes tax incentives for transitioning to renewable energy, in the final bill.

“I think it looks real good right now,” he said.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters after her group’s White House meeting that the president was considering a final number between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, NPR reported.

Jayapal has previously said Manchin’s proposed $1.5 trillion figure is too small for progressives to support, the report said.

This story has revised to delete references to Sonoma County transportation projects that were not funded in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill approved by the Senate.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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