Biden predicts $1.2tn infrastructure win after Capitol Hill visit


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Joe Biden insisted that Democrats would pass his ambitious domestic spending agenda despite internal party feuding that has stymied its passage through Congress, saying “we’re going to get this done” after a rare Capitol Hill visit to lobby lawmakers.

Biden’s party is split over the two pillars of a sweeping legislative agenda on which he has staked his presidency: a $1.2tn infrastructure bill with bipartisan support and a $3.5tn spending package to improve America’s social safety net, which is opposed by Republicans and will need to pass both chambers of Congress with Democratic votes alone.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, was due to bring the infrastructure bill to a vote this week but has repeatedly pushed back a self-imposed deadline amid divisions over whether to link its passage to the larger package.

After a 45-minute closed-door meeting with Pelosi and House Democrats on Friday, Biden appeared to lift the deadline pressures and rejected any suggestion of a tight timeline for passing the legislation.

“It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks,” Biden said as he left the Capitol. “We’re going to get it done.”

Lawmakers were asked to surrender their phones before entering the private meeting, but members of Congress said afterwards that Biden had acknowledged that the $3.5tn bill would need to be pared back in order to pass the Senate.

The driving forces behind shrinking the larger package are two of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who wield outsized power in an upper chamber that is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with vice-president Kamala Harris able to cast a tiebreaking vote.

“[Biden] said what we all know is true: the [$3.5tn] has to come down,” said Peter Welch of Vermont. “We’ve got to get 50 votes in the Senate, we’ve got 48 right now . . . this is everything everybody knows and he was acknowledging.”

Manchin, who represents West Virginia, said on Thursday that he was unwilling to support a budget bill with a price tag of more than $1.5tn, while a Sinema spokesperson said the senator from Arizona also objected to the cost of the $3.5tn bill.

Members of Congress said the president on Friday explicitly acknowledged that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would not pass the House without a tandem agreement on the budget measures.

“He was really clear that we need to get both bills done, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Pramila Jayapal, the Democratic congresswoman who chairs the House progressive caucus. “He was very clear: the two are tied together.”

Pelosi had promised moderate Democrats a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill on Monday, and then again on Thursday, but postponed the make-or-break vote after several days of crunch talks with members of her own party, the president and White House officials.

Biden has this week participated in the negotiations behind the scenes. But his trip to Capitol Hill on Friday highlighted a shift in tactics by the president towards more public interventions.

Democrats in Washington fear that a failure to pass either piece of legislation could hurt the president’s party in a governor’s race in Virginia next month, as well as next year’s midterm elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs.

New Jersey congressman Tom Malinowski said voters “did not give a damn” about the infighting on Capitol Hill, but were counting on the policies being signed into law.

“All they care about is: are we going to build the roads, the bridges, the tunnels and create the jobs and deliver the broadband, to pay for the childcare, and keep these middle class tax cuts that we put into place?”

Progressive Democrats in the House have said they will not sign on to the infrastructure bill — which would invest federal funds largely in roads, bridges and tunnels, as well as broadband — until they receive assurances that the bigger bill will not be watered down in the Senate.

The internal party divisions over Biden’s legislative agenda come as the Democratic party also confronts a looming crisis over the debt ceiling.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the Senate remain locked in a stare-down over lifting the borrowing limit, with Republicans refusing to sign on to raising the debt ceiling.

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