WASHINGTON — With a personal push, President Joe Biden pressured fellow Democrats to work on his larger “Build Back Better” agenda, asking them to come up with a final outline and his division as the party labors. You are asked to come up with your best topline budget figure to bridge the gap. Congress ahead of crucial voting deadline.
Biden and Democratic House and Senate lawmakers met on Wednesday evening for hours of back-to-back private White House sessions, convened at a turning point for Biden’s $3.5 trillion package as lawmakers struggled to draft the details of the ambitious effort. With strong opposition from Republicans, Democratic leaders are counting on the president to build a consensus among progressives and centrists in their party.
Biden first courted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, then held separate sessions with moderate and progressive senators and representatives. The president listened carefully, lawmakers said, but also signaled strongly that he wanted progress as soon as next week.
“We are in a good position,” Pelosi told reporters after returning to the Capitol.
The White House called the meetings “productive and clear” and said follow-up work would be underway immediately. Earlier in the day, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House felt “a deeper engagement by the president is needed” as time goes on.
The intense focus on Biden’s big-money domestic proposal shows just how much political is at stake for the president and his party in Congress. The administration has faced setbacks elsewhere, particularly with the withdrawal of Afghanistan and the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, and Democrats are running short of time, eager to deliver on campaign promises.
Congress is racing toward Monday’s deadline for a House vote on the first part of Biden’s plan – a $1 trillion public works measure – which now also serves as a deadline to outline a compromise for a comprehensive package .
At one point, Biden told lawmakers there were plenty of conference rooms in the White House they could use to hunker down this weekend as some suggested they roll up their sleeves and get the final details. to stop.
Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a leading centrist who has stressed a $3.5 trillion price tag, said the president had asked him to come up with a number he could live with.
“He basically said, ‘Find it,'” Manchin said. “‘Just work on it, give me a number.'”
After the final session of the evening, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “The president is really fired.”
Meanwhile, the House and Senate remained at a standstill on a separate package to keep the government funded before the end of the September 30 fiscal year and suspend federal debt limits to prevent a disastrous US default on payments. Senate Republicans are rejecting the House-passed bill.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told a news conference Tuesday that failing to extend the debt limit “is not something we can or should consider.”
As for Biden’s bigger plans, the president and Democratic lawmakers have not fully resolved their differences ahead of Monday’s test vote on smaller public works bills for roads, broadband and public water projects.
Centrist Democrats want speedy passage of the slimmer Public Works bill and have raised concerns about the price tag of Biden’s broad vision, but progressive Democrats are withholding their votes for the $1 trillion measure until it They are considered insufficient unless attached to the larger package.
New Jersey Representative Josh Gotheimer, a leader of the centrist coalition who attended a White House meeting, said everyone agreed to do both — pass the bill on Monday and work on the bigger package.
But Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued a statement after another meeting with Biden, reiterating that some 50 members plan to vote against the bipartisan measure as long as it is attached to the broader bill. Don’t be He has said that the two bills must go “in tandem” to win the progressive vote.
Beyond the public works measure, Biden’s “build back” agenda is a sweeping overhaul of federal taxes and spending, which the president sees as overdue investments in health care, family services and efforts to fight climate change.
The $3.5 trillion package would impose tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans earning more than $400,000 a year and return that money to federal programs for young and old, along with investments to combat climate change.
Tensions are high because the Biden agenda is a key campaign promise not only to the president but to most Democratic lawmakers, including those in the House who face re-election next year.
“It wasn’t about how we do it when we get it done,” said Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, who was at a liberal group meeting with Biden.
All told, more than 20 lawmakers were invited to confer with Biden, moderates and progressives in separate meetings until the evening, making his best pitches, Manchin and San. Kirsten Cinema, another prominent centrist in Arizona, among them. were from.
Despite the controversy, many Democrats say they expect the final product to align with Biden’s broader vision and ultimately have the party’s strong support, regardless of whether that version is adjusted or scaled back.
But Representative Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the centrist Blue Dog caucus, said the larger bill would take longer. “I’m not sure we’re in a place of closure yet,” she said.
While all this is going on, the government faces a shutdown if funding stops on 30 September at the end of the financial year. Additionally, at some point in October the US runs the risk of defaulting on its accumulated debt load if its borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted.
Racing to prevent that dire ordeal, the Democratic-led House passed a money-and-debt measure on Tuesday night, but Republicans are refusing to extend their support to the Senate, despite the risk of triggering a financial crisis. .
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that since Democrats control the White House and Congress, finding votes is his problem – although he relied on bipartisan cooperation to approve debt limit measures when Republicans were in charge.
But in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats will be hard pressed to find 10 Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pull off a filibuster. Other options for trying to pass a loan limit package can be procedurally difficult.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Martin Kreutsinger, Darlene Superville, Brian Slodisko and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.