Biden meets with Democratic members of Congress in race to pass agenda

Progressive and moderate Democrats come together to frame a deal that they hope will pass quickly

The White House and Democratic members of Congress are nearing a deal on a framework for a major package of legislation on social programmes and climate change they hope to announce in the coming days.

Both sides are still working out the details on the top-line number for the package — whose original price tag had been $3.5 trillion — but are looking at potential cuts to affordable housing and home care for the elderly, a source familiar with the talks told Reuters on Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden met competing factions within his Democratic party on Tuesday in an attempt to save his agenda. Democrats are aiming for an end-of-October deadline to pass the infrastructure and social-spending bills.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the meetings were "constructive" in a statement she issued on Tuesday evening.

"There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing," she said.

Progressive and moderate Democrats in Congress for weeks have been at odds over the cost and scope of Mr Biden's economic agenda.

Now, Mr Biden is ramping up the pace.

“Today, he is spending virtually, literally every minute of his day meeting with members of Congress and I think that's a reflection of how urgent he feels,” Ms Psaki told reporters earlier on Tuesday.

“Our effort is on continuing to make progress,” she said.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said the party expects a framework deal on Mr Biden's agenda to be reached by the end of the week.

“The pace has picked up,” Mr Schumer said after a closed-door lunch with Senate Democrats.

“The desire to get this done is universal.”

Mr Biden first met with two moderate Democratic senators — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — whose opposition to the price tag and content of the social-spending bill has stalled progress and infuriated their left-leaning colleagues.

Mr Manchin has repeatedly said he would only agree to a $1.5tn social-spending bill, which Mr Biden says would address inequalities through expansion of free education and childcare. The conservative West Virginia senator has also opposed a clean electricity programme, a central component of Mr Biden's agenda.

Worried about the fate of that bill, a progressive faction in the US House of Representatives has responded by blocking passage of a separate $1.2tn bill for improving infrastructure.

With the centrepiece of his climate strategy all but dead, Mr Biden had scheduled separate meetings with moderate and progressive Democratic members of Congress to identify alternative emission-reducing strategies.

The Democrats need to find tactics that can be accepted by both centrists and moderates, whose votes are all needed in the evenly divided Senate.

Tackling climate change has been a cornerstone of the president’s “Build Back Better” proposal, his sweeping plan to bolster federal government spending on health care, childcare and other social services while addressing the climate crisis that Democratic voters say is one of their most important issues.

Updated: October 20th 2021, 12:20 AM
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