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Democrats, Biden negotiate intensively on saving ambitious agenda

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Biden hopes to make two large spending bills the centerpiece of his domestic record./AFP
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Oct 20, 2021 - 04:26 AM

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden was “more confident” about saving his multi-trillion-dollar agenda in Congress from internal party wrangling, the White House press secretary said late Tuesday, after a day of intensive negotiations with Democrats.

At stake are two huge bills: an infrastructure package worth $1.2 trillion and a second, even bigger proposal to expand the social safety net.

“After a day of constructive meetings, the President is more confident this evening about the path forward,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing,” she added.

Biden hopes to make the two huge bills the centerpiece of his domestic record, but infighting between moderate Democrats, who balk at the price tags, and the leftist progressive wing pushing for even more threatens to leave him empty handed.

He held back-to-back talks in the White House with representatives from both sides of the debate, and on Wednesday will go to Scranton, the blue collar Pennsylvania city where he was born, to promote his plans in a speech.

“Today he is spending virtually, literally every minute of his day meeting with members of Congress and I think that’s a reflection of how urgent he feels,” Psaki told reporters earlier in the day.

The ramped-up efforts appeared to be at least creating some movement, after weeks of stalemate.

“We are feeling good,” congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a leader of the progressive faction in the House of Representatives, told reporters following a two-hour meeting with Biden at the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also sounded an optimistic note after a lunch meeting with fellow Democrats, saying there was “universal agreement” on reaching a deal and it should be “this week.”

“The pace has picked up, the desire to get it done is strong,” he told reporters.

Biden’s counteroffer 

Biden had originally pushed for a $3.5 trillion social spending bill, expanding free education, child care and other elements of what the White House calls human infrastructure.

That is too much for moderate Democrats, led by senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Their opposition alone is enough to sink the Biden initiative in a Senate where Democrats need every one of their votes to get anything passed.

Manchin, who along with Sinema also visited Biden on Tuesday, has suggested a total of no more than $1.5 trillion for social spending.

Jayapal said after her meeting that Biden’s counteroffer is $1.9 to $2.2 trillion.

“That’s what he’s working to get everybody to,” she said.

Democrats do agree broadly on making use of their rare, if vulnerable, control of both houses of Congress and the presidency to pass major legislation while they can.

Midterm legislative elections in just over a year could see them lose majorities in one or both chambers to the Republicans.

But with Manchin so far blocking the bigger bill, the progressive faction in the House of Representatives has responded by stopping passage of the separate infrastructure bill. That leaves Biden and his party staring at the possibility of coming away with nothing.

Psaki, however, was upbeat.

“We’ve had months to consider, debate, litigate,” she said. “It will come time soon to move forward and deliver for the American people.”

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