WASHINGTON (AP) – Pressure is mounting but with signs of progress President Joe Biden is in hiding in the White House to try to strike a deal and win two resilient Democratic senators whose support is needed for his potentially historic 3,500 overhaul billion dollars from government.
With Republicans firmly opposed and no Democratic votes to spare, Biden canceled a trip to Chicago on Wednesday that was to focus on COVID-19 vaccinations so he can dig for another day of intense negotiations with lawmakers ahead of the crucial votes .
The stakes are higher than ever as Biden and his party attempt to accomplish a giant legislative lift, promising a vast rewrite of the nation’s record with an oh-so-thin majority in Congress. His idea is essentially to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and use that money to expand health care, education, and other government programs – an impact that would be felt in countless American lives.
A sign of trouble ahead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Wednesday she could delay a vote scheduled for Thursday on a $ 1 trillion public works measure that centrist senators want, but progressives threaten to win unless there is a move on Biden’s larger pack.
It is a point of pressure on senators and other centrist lawmakers to strike a deal with Biden.
“We are moving step by step,” Pelosi, D-Calif., Told reporters on Capitol Hill.
âI want this passed,â Pelosi said of the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill. “So what we wanted to do is move on tomorrow, and anything that strengthens a speaker’s hand, helps us.”
At the same time, Congress is courting a more immediate crisis. Republicans are refusing to approve routine legislation to maintain government funding after Thursday’s fiscal year-end and increase the country’s debt limit to avoid a dangerous default. Further votes were expected on Wednesday and were likely to at least temporarily avert disaster.
With Biden and his party simultaneously achieving what would be a signing political achievement, there is a strong sense that progress is being made, said an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks. .
All eyes are on West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, who say the price of Biden’s plan is too high but are publicly silent on a number they can live with.
The president separately met with the two centrist senators in the White House on Tuesday, and Democrats are set to cut tax proposals and spending targets by the huge measure to the overall size they demand.
âReally good, honest and straightforward negotiations,â Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill after his White House meeting with Biden. He said he had not given the president a new topline number.
Biden’s problems with his fellow Democrats aren’t confined to the Senate. A small number of centrist House Democrats are bristling at the vast scope of his national agenda and demanding change. But progressive lawmakers warn against excessive cuts, saying they have already compromised enough.
Lobbying, Progressives are threatening to suspend support for the additional $ 1,000 billion public works measure in preparation for a vote on Thursday, which they say is too thin without Biden’s biggest package insured.
“We are obviously at a very sensitive time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The president, she said, âis not going to tell anyone what to do. He’s going to have a discussion, to have a commitment.
Taken together, all of this brings the entire Biden agenda dangerously close to collapse, with consequences that will certainly shape his presidency and the political future of lawmakers.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress in a letter on Tuesday that October 18 is a critical date – the day the Treasury Department will likely exhaust all of its âextraordinary measuresâ taken to avoid government default.
Yellen urged Congress to “protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible” to either raise the debt limit or suspend it.
Faced with Republicans’ opposition to tying routine government funding to the debt limit vote, Democrats split the two, canceling the more heated debate over the debt limit for another day, closer to a separate deadline in October.
The Senate is set to vote quickly to provide government funding to avoid a federal shutdown after fiscal year-end Sept.30, maintaining operations temporarily to Dec.3. The House could follow quickly.
The House is also preparing a possible vote to extend the debt limit until December 16, which Democrats are likely to support. But even if it is approved by the House, it is not clear whether it could pass the Senate in the face of GOP obstruction.
Tensions are mounting on Capitol Hill as the outlines of Biden’s grand agenda become clearer amid the deadlock over normally routine votes on government operations.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell became irritable with reporters when asked about Yellen’s warning that Congress must resolve the issue quickly.
âOf course, the debt ceiling needs to be raised,â McConnell said. But he insisted that Democrats shoulder the unpopular vote on their own.
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes action on the $ 3.5 trillion measure is testing Biden’s grip on his party, as he seeks to rework the country’s tax priorities and spending targets once in a generation.
With all Republicans opposed to the big bill, Democratic leaders cannot spare a single vote in the Senate 50-50, relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie and pass the eventual package.
Physically holding up the more than 2,000-page bill, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming warned that this was just “great government socialism.”
Biden insists the price will actually be zero, as the expansion of government programs would be largely funded by higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – with companies making more than $ 5 million a year and individuals earning more than $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples.
To lower the price and win the centrist Democrats, there is no need to cut specific programs, said those familiar with the process. Rather, lawmakers are considering ways to adjust the scope and duration of some of Biden’s proposals.
Still, Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she has the votes to derail the other bill unless it is accompanied by Biden’s larger one. – tacit pressure on the recalcitrant to reach an agreement. Supporting this position, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Also called for a no vote.
Associated Press editors Zeke Miller, Kevin Freking, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.