President Joe Biden told House Democrats in a private meeting Thursday that his presidency and their political fortunes depend on passage of his multitrillion-dollar economic agenda — yet it was unclear whether his warning would unite the party’s factions.
“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week,” Biden told the lawmakers at the Capitol, according to two people in the room and a third person familiar with the remark.
The framework that the White House released Thursday won widespread praise from Democrats, even as some complained about personal priorities that were left out.
Progressives in the House largely embraced Biden’s $1.75 trillion tax and spending plan but continue to hold up the other piece of his economic agenda — a $550 billion infrastructure bill — until they see the larger proposal translated into legislation.
“This is a significant set of investments that will be transformational for people,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said. “We intend to vote for both bills when the text is ready.”
That’s a reflection of the lack of trust between liberals and two moderate Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who through protracted negotiations with Biden have whittled down his plan and left some progressive priorities by the wayside.
The president traveled to the Capitol to urge the Democrats to break a deadlock over the pair of bills that comprise his economic agenda, the plan known as Build Back Better, and the Senate-passed public works measure with $550 billion in new spending.
The Build Back Better legislation includes provisions Democrats called unprecedented that would combat climate change, provide universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, subsidize most Americans’ childcare costs and create or expand other social-welfare programs. It’s offset by tax increases and other revenue measures totaling about $2 trillion, according to a White House fact sheet.
“Any single element of this framework would be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said in remarks at the White House after the private meeting with House Democrats. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.”
In his remarks to House Democrats, Biden urged them to quickly clear the infrastructure measure for his signature. The White House wants the president to have a legislative accomplishment in hand in advance of both international summits in Rome and Glasgow, Scotland, this weekend and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia on Nov. 2.
The Virginia contest is particularly tight, and Virginia Democrats have pleaded with the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to clear the infrastructure bill in order to demonstrate a Democratic achievement to voters.
Pelosi sought to arrange a vote on the bill on Thursday, as the president travels to Rome, but other lawmakers and Democratic aides said that was likely too optimistic a timetable.
“When the president gets off that plane, we want him to have a vote of confidence from this Congress,” she said, according to one of the people in the room.
But progressives are defying Pelosi, and some expressed anger that she would try to ram through a vote on the infrastructure bill before the larger plan is put on paper. House progressives Juan Vargas of California and Cori Bush of Missouri said after a meeting among their caucus that they would not vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill until the other legislation is ready.
“I felt a little bit bamboozled,” Bush said. “This was not what I thought was coming today.”
Biden assured the House lawmakers that the framework the White House released Thursday would win the votes of all 50 Senate Democrats. But several of them declined to commit to it.
“The administration may have negotiated with Sinema and Manchin. They’ve got to get 48 other people,” said New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez.
Like many other northeast Democrats, he wants the legislation to include at least a partial reversal of a Trump-era cap on federal income tax deductions for state and local tax payments.
“The framework is not a final product as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota urged liberals in the House to continue to block action on the infrastructure measure, saying it wasn’t clear 50 senators would support Build Back Better as outlined.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he’s still negotiating to add provisions to regulate prescription drug prices and to tax billionaires’ unrealized capital gains.
Progressives have insisted that they won’t vote on the Senate’s public works measure until the Senate actually votes on Build Back Better. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said Thursday that position hasn’t changed.
“I’m a no on infrastructure until we get the other bill,” she told reporters before heading into the meeting with Biden.
But another progressive, Representative Karen Bass of California, indicated after the meeting that views may be shifting. She said she “may” vote for the infrastructure measure and that “there is still a lot more discussion on that to come today.”
Separately, some House Democrats are demanding the Build Back Better legislation also include an immigration overhaul that would give undocumented people in the U.S. greater protections against deportation. The White House framework allows for such a program, but it isn’t clear if Senate rules would permit new immigration policies in the bill.
— With assistance from Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis