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President Biden answers reporters' questions after a speech Thursday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D-Ariz.) warning that she’s opposed to a budget reconciliation bill costing $3.5 trillion will force Senate Democrats and the White House to either trim the proposals in it or tinker with how many years they'll run.

Why it matters: Such gamesmanship will be necessary if lawmakers and the Biden administration want to keep the support of progressives and centrists. But it will lead to a bill with costs and durations as uneven as the Manhattan skyline.

  • “The length of programs will be set by the reconciliation bill," one White House official told Axios. "The future of temporary programs will be up to a future Congress.”

The big picture: For example, progressives are eager to make the Child Tax Credit — which was expanded in the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act enacted in March — a permanent tool to reduce childhood poverty.

  • While the White House shares that long-term goal, President Biden only proposed extending the CTC through 2025 in the American Families Plan, his version of the "soft" infrastructure bill that would be passed through reconciliation.
  • That extension of the CTC would cost an estimated $100 billion a year.

Gene Sperling, one of Biden’s top economic advisers, is quietly trying to convince progressives the White House is committed to making the CTC permanent, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

  • Such assurances are vital to maintaining support during what promises to be brutal negotiations this fall as Democrats debate how broadly to expand the social safety net.
  • Sperling is currently working to convince allied groups the administration needs time to show the public how effective the CTC can be in fighting poverty and helping families, but is committed to making it permanent down the line.
  • A White House official stressed that Sperling is saying in private what the administration has said in public about making the CTC permanent.
  • The recovery act, which passed on a party-line vote, increased the amount families receive from the CTC from $2,000 per year to as much as $3,600 per child, per year.

The intrigue: If Democrats decide to pay for as many progressive priorities as possible via reconciliation, they risk funding them for only short windows, given the spending ceiling set by Sinema and other moderates.

  • Using shorter funding timeframes to reach a lower price tag would leave such programs vulnerable to cuts by a future Republican-controlled Congress.
  • The other way to lower the price tag is to include fewer programs over a longer duration, giving those programs more time to become popular and ingrained with the American public.
  • That makes them more difficult for future Congresses — or presidents — to cut or eliminate.

Flashback: Republicans passed the controversial Bush tax cuts via reconciliation in 2001 and 2003, knowing they would sunset in 10 years.

  • With the economy limping out of the Great Recession in 2012, President Obama was forced to make them permanent for families making less than $450,000.
  • Republicans pocketed the victory, which Sperling watched as one of Obama's negotiators.

Between the lines: The lack of clarity about how long each program will last— or when they will start — has frustrated outside budget groups trying to assess how much everything will cost.

  • Some have priced a reconciliation package as high as $5.5 trillion.
  • “It’s a lurchy and jarring way to do public policy with things abruptly starting and stopping for no sensible reason," said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
  • "It leads to the kinds of crisis-type deadlines we need to move past."

Go deeper

House passes $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill, sending it to Biden's desk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Craig Hudson/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The House on Friday passed, 228-206, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, handing President Biden a major victory after months of party infighting and negotiations.

Why it matters: The core piece of Biden’s signature domestic agenda includes massive investments in roads, bridges and waterways, among other “hard infrastructure” provisions.

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.