Obama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes

Former President Obama on Monday urged support for President Biden's economic agenda at the outset of a pivotal week in Congress to pass key legislation, batting down arguments over the price tag or means of paying for the package.

Obama, in a rare television interview, told ABC's Robin Roberts that the infrastructure bill and reconciliation package backed by Biden "is something that America desperately needs."

The former president did not weigh in on the intraparty dynamics at play as progressives and moderates jostle over which piece of legislation to prioritize. But he touted the benefits for families, and he offered support for paying through the reconciliation bill by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

"So when you look at the overall package, it's got a headline price tag of $3.5 trillion, but that's not a single year. It's spread out over a number of years," Obama said. "And, most importantly, it's paid for by asking the wealthiest of Americans, who have benefited incredibly over the last several decades - and even in the midst of a pandemic, saw their wealth and assets rise enormously - asking them to pay a few percentage points more in taxes in order to make sure that we have a economy that's fair for everybody."

"I think that they can afford it," Obama added when Roberts noted some of the pushback from Republicans and businesses on the tax hike on wealthy Americans. "We can afford it. I put myself in this category now."

"I think anybody who pretends that it's a hardship for billionaires to pay a little bit more in taxes so that a single mom gets child care support or so that we can make sure that our communities aren't inundated by wildfires and floods and that we're doing something about climate change for the next generation - you know, that's an argument that is unsustainable," the former president said.

Obama's full-throated endorsement of Biden's agenda comes as Democratic leaders in Congress hope to tee up votes this week on legislation to keep the government funded, raise the debt ceiling and pass infrastructure legislation.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set a Thursday vote on a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, which some liberals are vowing to oppose without more movement on Biden's $3.5 trillion social-spending and climate package.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the centrists demanding cuts to the $3.5 trillion package, huddled in the office of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) spoke by phone and texted several key moderates, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas). Biden held a conference call with the two top Democrats on Capitol Hill, Pelosi and Schumer as Congress attempted Monday to make movement on Biden's stalled legislative agenda.

Biden acknowledged earlier Monday that the legislation may not be passed by the end of the week, but he expressed optimism it would get done.