Biden champions economic plan as Democrats scale back ambitions

Biden champions economic plan as Democrats scale back ambitions
© Associated Press/Susan Walsh

President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE used a speech in his childhood hometown of Scranton, Pa., to drive home the argument for his economic agenda on Wednesday as Democrats hash out cuts to a multitrillion-dollar social spending bill in their push for a deal by the end of this month.

Speaking in the same state where he launched and closed out his successful 2020 presidential bid, Biden stressed the need for Democrats to pass the domestic priorities on which his campaign centered.

The president described both the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger, Democrat-only social and climate policy bill as critical to giving more “breathing room” to middle class families and position the United States to compete against other nations.  

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“For too long, working people of this nation, the middle class in this country, the backbone of this country, have been dealt out. It’s time to deal them back in,” Biden told the audience Wednesday evening in a speech at Scranton’s Electric City Trolley Museum. 

“Eighty-one million people voted for me. More people voted than anytime in American history. And their voices deserve to be heard, not to be denied, or worse, be ignored,” he added.

Biden’s speech ran long — upwards of 45 minutes — as he reflected on his upbringing in Scranton and thumbed through specific provisions in each of the bills he is trying to get passed in Washington in the coming weeks.

At one point during the speech, Biden mentioned that the infrastructure bill would expand access to high-speed broadband and expressed frustration that some families have struggled without it.

“You saw what’s happened when we’ve had this COVID[-19 pandemic]. Try teaching from home. How many people did you see out in McDonalds parking lots with their kids in their cars because they get access to the internet to be able to help the kid in school,” Biden said. 

“What are we doing?” he added, raising his voice. “This is the United States of America, damn it. What are we doing?”

Biden has been busy this week pushing Democrats to coalesce around a scaled-back version of his economic agenda.

In meetings with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday, Biden continued to float the contours of a package costing between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion, a sizable reduction from the $3.5 trillion price tag Democrats originally envisioned.

Democrats are now weighing how to scale back specific programs to get there.

There is a broad expectation that a key climate component — the Clean Electricity Performance Program — will be cut from the program due to opposition from Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinKlobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill MORE (D-W.Va.). Democrats are trying to figure out how to replace it in the bill.

Democrats are also expected to eliminate Biden’s proposal for two years of tuition-free community college from the final package.

During his speech Wednesday afternoon, Biden seemed to tacitly acknowledge that likelihood. He mentioned the bill would provide for universal prekindergarten and expand Pell Grants, but he didn’t mention the community college proposal.

Asked about the details of the package before departing Joint Base Andrews for Scranton, Biden suggested it was unwise to negotiate with the press but expressed optimism.  

“I’m hopeful. I think we’ll get a good deal,” he said.

Democrats are trying to reach a deal on a framework for the reconciliation bill by the end of the week, while House Democrats have set an Oct. 31 deadline to pass a separate infrastructure package, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

House progressives have refused to support the infrastructure bill without an agreement on the larger package.

Biden, who is slated to travel to Europe for the COP26 climate summit and a Group of 20 summit at the end of next week, reiterated his optimism during his speech.

“There are some really smart national press with me today and they have understandably believed that there’s no possibility of my getting this done. This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it,” Biden said. “But I think we’re going to surprise them because I think people are beginning to figure out what’s at stake.”