Biden Summons Democrats to Oval Office to Unite on Agenda
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden is attempting to mediate between Democratic moderates and progressives, as disputes between the two wings of the party threatens to sink his economic agenda.
Biden’s Oval Office overture on Wednesday was part of stepped-up efforts by the administration to reach out to lawmakers, either in groups or in individual meetings, as the president tries to assert more control over a package that is at a pivotal juncture in Congress.
Biden and Democratic congressional leaders are seeking middle ground on tax and spending legislation encompassing most of Biden’s domestic agenda. The future of that and a separate infrastructure bill depends on party unity.
“We’re working hard and we’re moving along,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had their own meeting with Biden. He refused to provide any details about what they discussed.
Democratic leaders are seeking to lower expectations among House progressives, warning that the initial $3.5 trillion price tag may be cut to get full support from moderates, particularly in the Senate, where Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have said they don’t support the size of the package, but haven’t said what level of spending they’d agree to.
Manchin and Sinema attended an afternoon meeting that also included outspoken House centrists like Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who have demanded the process be slowed down and that the bill not add to the deficit. They also want the House to give final passage next week to bipartisan infrastructure legislation with $550 billion in new spending, before taking up the larger package. Gottheimer is leading a fight to restore the state and local tax deduction, for wealthy homeowners. That meeting also included moderate senators like Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.
Biden “pretty much laid down where we’re at, what the landscape is,” Tester said after he left the White House. “The president would like to move the ball down the road.”
He said Biden didn’t weigh in on the overall size of the package, one of the main points of contention. Lawmakers went into detail on policy areas they care most about during the discussion, while Biden urged them to come together on the details in coming days, Tester said.
Gottheimer called the meeting the “ultimate problem solving session.”
“But we still have work to do,” he said in a statement. “We’ve got a hectic few days ahead.”
The White House held a third meeting with 10 progressives including Representatives Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin as well as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Many in that group want to change the draft House bill to increase social welfare benefits and increase taxes on the wealthy while reducing subsidies for fossil fuels.
Jayapal and her progressive caucus are threatening to vote down the infrastructure bill Monday if the larger package, which the White House labels “Build Back Better,” is not enacted first.
“I reiterated what I have consistently said: progressives will vote for both bills because we proudly support the President’s entire Build Back Better package, but that a majority of our 96-member caucus will only vote for the small infrastructure bill after the Build Back Better Act passes,” Jayapal said in a statement after the meeting. “This is what we promised voters when they delivered us the House, the Senate, and the White House.”
House and Senate Democrats still haven’t completed the expansive package that includes a mix of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, as well as greater spending on child and elder care, health care, climate change and other areas. And Democratic leaders acknowledge plans for votes this month could be delayed.
With Congress moving toward votes on the president’s agenda, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “there needs to be deeper engagement by the president. That’s what you’re seeing happen today.”
The package is taking on added importance as other aspects of Biden’s domestic agenda run into significant setbacks or even insurmountable roadblocks.
Senate Republicans later this month are expected to block for a third time Democratic legislation overhauling U.S. voting laws that is designed to counter a record number of new voting restrictions emerging from GOP-led state legislatures. And earlier this week, the Senate parliamentarian blocked Democrats from including a plan to provide legal status to as many as 8 million undocumented immigrants in the economic package, which Democrats seek to pass without any GOP support using Senate rules that short-circuit the filibuster.
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