Biden Seeks Path Out of Gridlock After Resetting Clock on Agenda
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden and top Democrats will regroup this week to salvage two pillars of his agenda, after gridlock between the party’s two flanks scuttled passage of an infrastructure bill and threatens to drag on for weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reset the clock on Saturday, giving lawmakers until Halloween to strike a deal on both the bipartisan $550 billion infrastructure deal and a broader, signature package of social spending, health care and tax measures they must pass with only Democratic votes.
The weekend offered mixed signals -- including Pelosi’s delay and a blistering critique of House Democrats from moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is balking at the broad bill. But there were also olive branches, with some members of Congress suggesting the so-called reconciliation package could be authorized for a limited time to pare down the price.
As questions swirl about the fate of Biden’s agenda, the U.S. continues to barrel toward default if the debt limit isn’t raised or suspended by mid-October.
Biden will travel to Michigan Tuesday to urge passage of his two packages, nodding to a cradle of U.S. manufacturing and a symbol of the rise and decline of the American middle class. He’s visiting the district of Elissa Slotkin, a key House moderate.
“I believe I can get this done. I believe, when the American people are aware what’s in it, we can get it done,” Biden said Saturday at the White House, acknowledging but shrugging off tensions within the party. “Everybody is frustrated. It’s part of being in government -- being frustrated.”
Congress bought time by passing a deal to avoid a government shutdown until at least December, and a 30-day extension of surface transportation funding, which Biden signed Saturday.
Last week’s frenzied, around-the-clock push to broker a deal won’t spill into this week with the same fervor. Instead, Biden will continue to press for passage of both bills, and will reprise in his Michigan speech many of the themes he raised while speaking to House Democrats on Friday.
Moderate Democrats say they’ll vote for infrastructure as a standalone bill, but progressives insist infrastructure be paired with an ambitious social spending plan -- including child care, tuition-free community college, paid family leave, an expansion of Medicaid and sweeping climate provisions.
That bill would need to go through the budget reconciliation process to pass the Senate by a simple majority vote, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie if all 50 Democratic senators vote yes.
One path would be to shorten the duration of the social spending package envisaged at $3.5 trillion over 10 years, financed by proposed tax increases for what Biden argues is a net cost of nothing.
“One of the ideas out there is to fully fund what we can fully fund, but instead of funding it for 10 years, fund it for five years,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” That would avoid scaling down the breadth of the spending.
Cedric Richmond, a White House senior adviser, wouldn’t commit to a timeline or a price tag. But he said having programs expire could be a possibility.
“We don’t look at this as a number. We look at this as what programs are we going to deliver?” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Democratic leaders are now hoping for a deal by the end of this month rather than last -- “the sooner the better, to get the jobs out there,” Pelosi wrote to Democrats Saturday.
Before that, a fight looms over the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned about default if the limit isn’t raised or suspended by Oct. 18, though she said there may be a few days of wiggle room. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans won’t help Democrats raise the limit -- a threat Biden downplayed on Saturday.
“That would be totally unconscionable, never been done before, and so I hope that won’t happen,” Biden said.
The president spent the weekend at home in Delaware, a further signal Democrats were taking a step back to regroup. He golfed Saturday with a top aide, and attended church and ate breakfast with family on Sunday. Biden spoke with members of Congress each day about the two packages, an official familiar with his weekend said, declining to identify the members.
Two moderate senators are most opposed to the reconciliation package. One is Sinema, who called the scuttled vote on the infrastructure bill “inexcusable and deeply disappointing for communities across our country.”
The other is Senator Joe Manchin, who favors a $1.5 trillion package, though last week he declined to say whether that was a hard ceiling.
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