The president canceled a trip to Chicago in an attempt to salvage a pair of bills containing trillions of dollars in spending on infrastructure, education, climate change and more.
By Jim Tankersley
WASHINGTON — President Biden and his aides mounted an all-out effort on Wednesday to salvage Mr. Biden’s economic agenda in Congress, attempting to forge even the beginnings of a compromise between moderates and progressives on a pair of bills that would spend trillions to rebuild infrastructure, expand access to education, fight climate change and more.
Mr. Biden canceled a scheduled trip to Chicago, where he was planning to promote Covid-19 vaccinations, in order to continue talking with lawmakers during a critical week of deadlines in the House. One crucial holdout vote in the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist from Arizona, was set to visit the White House on Wednesday morning, a person familiar with the meeting said.
Ms. Sinema was one of the Democratic champions of a bipartisan bill, brokered by Mr. Biden, to spend more than $1 trillion over the next several years on physical infrastructure like water pipes, roads, bridges, electric vehicle charging stations and broadband internet. That bill passed the Senate this summer. It is set for a vote this week in the House. But progressive Democrats have threatened to block it unless it is coupled with a more expansive bill that contains much of the rest of Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, like universal prekindergarten and free community college, a host of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tax breaks for workers and families that are meant to fight poverty and boost labor force participation.
Understand the Infrastructure Bill
- One trillion dollar package passed. The Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package on Aug. 10, capping weeks of intense negotiations and debate over the largest federal investment in the nation’s aging public works system in more than a decade.
- The final vote. The final tally in the Senate was 69 in favor to 30 against. The legislation, which still must pass the House, would touch nearly every facet of the American economy and fortify the nation’s response to the warming of the planet.
- Main areas of spending. Overall, the bipartisan plan focuses spending on transportation, utilities and pollution cleanup.
- Transportation. About $110 billion would go to roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $25 billion for airports; and $66 billion for railways, giving Amtrak the most funding it has received since it was founded in 1971.
- Utilities. Senators have also included $65 billion meant to connect hard-to-reach rural communities to high-speed internet and help sign up low-income city dwellers who cannot afford it, and $8 billion for Western water infrastructure.
- Pollution cleanup: Roughly $21 billion would go to cleaning up abandoned wells and mines, and Superfund sites.
Ms. Sinema and another centrist in the Senate, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have expressed reservations over the scope of that larger bill and balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag that Democratic leaders have attached to it. Moderates in the House and Senate, led by Ms. Sinema, have resisted many of the tax increases on high earners and corporations that Mr. Biden proposed to offset the spending and tax cuts in the bill, in order to avoid adding further to the budget deficit.
Mr. Biden has thus far failed to convince Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin to agree publicly to a framework for how much they are willing to spend and what taxes they are willing to raise to fund the more expansive bill. If Mr. Biden cannot find a way to address their concerns, while also assuaging progressives and persuading them to support his infrastructure bill, he could see the warring factions in his party kill his entire economic agenda in the span of a few days.
Some Democrats have complained this week that the president has not engaged in talks to their satisfaction, though he has cleared his schedule this week in hopes of brokering a deal. He welcomed groups of progressives and moderates to the White House last week, for example, but met with each separately, as opposed to a group negotiation session.
Both Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin visited the White House on Tuesday, but after their meetings, neither they nor White House officials would enumerate the contours of a bill they could support.
“The president felt it was constructive, felt they moved the ball forward, felt there was an agreement, that we’re at a pivotal moment,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday, characterizing the meetings. “It’s important to continue to finalize the path forward to get the job done for the American people.”
White House officials said late Tuesday that Mr. Biden remained in frequent contact with a wide range of Democrats, including phone calls with progressives, and that he would have more conversations on Wednesday.
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