President Joe Biden had pitched himself as the uniter in chief, but his failing to bring even his own party together to pass a budget has Democrats wanting him to be more aggressive than passive.
"The reality right now is that a lot of people are saying, 'Where's Joe Biden? This is his agenda, why isn't he more involved in the negotiations?'" a House Democrat told CNN.
A failure to move big-ticket spending items is one thing, but even failing to agree on what the size and scope of the budget should be is leading some to question whether Biden can live up to his campaign promise to prove government can work.
"You don't want to get to a point where we look so indecisive that it can't be repaired with the package that's going to pass and start impacting people's lives," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, told CNN.
Ryan is running for Senate in Ohio and this year's budget talks are likely to have a lasting impact on the 2022 midterms and in determining whether Democrats can hold the House and Senate.
A Democrat aide on the Hill called it a "quagmire."
"Multiple constituencies within the caucus thought they were the ones standing up for the president and his agenda as it relates to the legislative process," the aide told CNN. "There's someone who could have settled that spirited disagreement more explicitly."
Instead, Biden is half-listening to moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who are the primary holdouts on the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. Manchin and Sinema will not support that spending level, so Biden floated $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion.
And, Democrats lamented, it still was not good enough.
"Why would the President propose that number without having Manchin and Sinema on board?" one Democrat member told CNN. "There seems to be a pretty big miscalculation by the White House."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the Democrat-socialist who wrote the $3.5 trillion plan, is sympathetic to the pressure Biden is under and having to trim the size of the bill, a source told CNN.
"It's such a lost opportunity for these candidates who are out there," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "That should be their message. It should be ours too. Instead, we're just getting hit by everyone focusing on what the top-line numbers are."
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