Biden touts ‘progress’ during ‘candid’ meetings on $3.5T plan

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President Biden had “productive and candid” meetings on Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers and made “progress” in his push for consensus amid significant infighting within the party over the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, the White House said in a statement Wednesday night.

“The President hosted three productive and candid meetings with congressional Democrats, representing a wide range of views of the caucuses in both Chambers, about the urgent need to deliver for the American middle class through the Build Back Better Act and the bipartisan infrastructure deal,” the White House said.

“This was an important opportunity for the President to engage with Members and hear their perspectives, and progress was made toward finding the pathway forward for lowering costs for hardworking people and ensuring that our economic growth strategy is based on investing in families, not more giveaways to big corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers,” it added.

Biden met in the Oval Office first with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), for just over an hour.

He then met with over a dozen House and Senate moderates, including Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chair Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), for over an hour and a half. 

And his third meeting, with progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), lasted over an hour and a half.

Biden’s trifecta of meetings comes as Democrats are struggling to bridge the divide between the various factions of their party, slowing progress on his signature legislative items.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was in the meeting with progressives, described Biden as in “vintage Joe Biden, let’s-get-it-done mood.” 

The White House said that Biden and White House officials “will have follow-up meetings, starting tomorrow, to continue to advance the process of passing these critical bills.” 

Biden received praise from lawmakers returning to the Capitol following the meetings.

“The only thing I can tell you is the president held a very good meeting,” Manchin told reporters after the moderates meeting. He added “the president asked everyone to work in good faith.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after the progressives meeting said he thinks the two packages will be “fine” as they move to the president’s desk.

“At the end of the day, the United States Congress is going to do what the American people want,” Sanders said, adding that the reconciliation bill is “enormously popular.”

“Look, when you’ve got 50 votes and none to lose and you’ve got three to spare in the House, there’s a lot of give and take. That’s just the way it is. … But I think at the end of the day, we’re going to be fine,” Sanders said, referring to the tight margins in both chambers.

But even as Biden helped lower the temperature among Democrats, significant headaches still loom.  

Pelosi has promised moderates she’ll hold a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure package by Monday. But progressives are vowing to defeat the measure unless it moves with the larger $3.5 trillion package.

Following the meeting with progressives, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said the meeting was “productive” and that she reiterated to Biden that the majority of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus will “only vote for the small infrastructure bill after the Build Back Better Act passes.”

Progressives told Biden during their meeting that they view the Sept. 27 deadline as “arbitrary,” according to Wyden, and Biden said that he would raise the issue with Schumer and Pelosi and “they’re going to talk about what’s the full range of possibilities.” 

But moderates in both chambers are eager for the Senate-passed infrastructure bill to move forward. 

Gottheimer, after the meeting with moderates, said everyone in the room at the White House agreed on the need to pass the infrastructure package and the reconciliation package, and that “we can get there.”

“It was the ultimate problem-solving session, but we still have work to do. We’ve got a hectic few days ahead,” he said.

Manchin, returning back to the Capitol, told reporters that he thought a reconciliation bill could be done “eventually,” but urged progressives to not hold the Senate infrastructure bill “hostage.” 

Not only moderates and progressives but also the House and Senate are facing significant divisions on Biden’s two-part spending package. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) floated that Democrats could try to work out a “framework” for the spending bill by Monday, but that could be a herculean task given the size of the legislation and the sticking points that remain. 

House and Senate Democrats previously passed a budget resolution that allows them to pass a bill of up to $3.5 trillion without GOP support in the Senate. But moderates are antsy about supporting a bill of that size. 

Biden, according to Manchin, told moderates to “give me a number” that they could support on the size of the bill, which is expected to combat climate change, expand Medicare and Medicaid and provide sweeping new education and child care benefits. 

But Sanders, asked if Biden raised lowering the price tag, said “the topline has come down, it started at $6 trillion.” 

Wednesday’s meetings come after some Democrats had pushed for Biden to take a more hands-on approach to the talks after weeks of moderates and progressives trading shots through the media and dueling press releases. 

When asked if Wednesday’s meetings marked a make-or-break moment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki instead called it “an important moment.” 

“We’re in a pivotal period of our negotiations and discussions,” Psaki said. “We always knew and have always known that as we get close to points where there are votes called or where there are key moments that Congress has on the calendar that there needs to be deeper engagement by the president; that’s what you’re seeing happen today.”

Tags $3.5 trillion spending bill Bernie Sanders Chuck Schumer Jen Psaki Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin Jon Tester Josh Gottheimer Kyrsten Sinema Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Problem Solvers Caucus Progressive caucus Ron Wyden

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