Biden to Meet With Democrats on Pushing His Economic Agenda

The president will sit down separately with Democratic leaders and lawmakers from both chambers as he seeks to advance trillions of dollars in spending.

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Biden is set to meet with Democrats as his economic agenda hangs in the balance.

President Biden is expected to meet with Democratic lawmakers to discuss the two bills that are major components of his economic agenda.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Sept. 22, 2021Updated 10:35 a.m. ET

President Biden is expected to host a series of meetings on Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers, including party leaders, as he works to smooth over deep divisions within his party about his multi-trillion-dollar domestic agenda.

In a series of Oval Office meetings throughout the day, Mr. Biden is expected to huddle with the two top Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and separately with lawmakers from across the ideological range of his party, according to people familiar with the plans, who disclosed them on condition of anonymity.

The flurry of meetings comes as both pieces of his economic agenda — a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a second, expansive $3.5 trillion social safety net package that supporters intend to push through with only Democratic votes — appear to be on a collision course, with moderate and liberal Democrats jockeying for leverage in a narrowly divided Congress.

In essence, Mr. Biden’s entire agenda faces a make-or-break moment, with an array of policy disagreements — over how large the domestic policy package should be and how to pay for and structure the programs it funds — standing in the way of action on any of it.

The lawmakers invited to negotiate with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday include centrist Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Mike Thompson of California and Stephanie Murphy of Florida, as well as Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the liberal independent from Vermont who chairs the Budget Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee and Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Democratic leadership are also slated to head to the White House, as are Senators Jon Tester, from conservative-leaning Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, centrists who have balked at the price tag of the social safety net plan, also plan to attend, according to their offices.

“We’ve got to do some negotiating moving forward,” Mr. Tester said on Wednesday. “I don’t think that’s a big secret.”

Liberal Democrats in the House remain adamant that they will withhold their votes for the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, until that chamber approves the $3.5 trillion package. Without their backing, Democrats are almost certain to fall short of the votes they need to win approval of the infrastructure measure in the House, where Ms. Pelosi has committed to bringing it up by Monday.

Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, said Wednesday morning that liberals could not negotiate a final package if more conservative Democrats would not present a counteroffer to the $3.5 trillion measure they have agreed to.

At the very least, he said, Democrats of all stripes need an ironclad, public agreement on a total spending number over 10 years and some core elements that would be in the package, such as an expanded, permanent child care tax credit, a per-child tax credit, and some aggressive climate change provisions, such as a clean energy standard.

Ms. Jayapal is preparing to make the case to Mr. Biden that linking the infrastructure bill to the social policy measure is not a matter of political horse-trading, but a substantive demand.

Liberal lawmakers, she argues, would not have agreed to a traditional infrastructure package funding roads, bridges and tunnels that will promote fossil fuel usage unless they knew a substantial climate change measure would also be enacted, to ensure the vehicles on those new highways would be electric, with a bolstered electricity infrastructure to support them.

For weeks, progressives have insisted that their support for the infrastructure package was contingent on the scope and success of the larger package, which carries most of their ambitions. Democrats plan to push through that bill under a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation that shields it from a filibuster, but because of their slim margins of control in the House and Senate, it can only pass if virtually every member of their party supports it.

With Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin warning that they will not back a package so large, and moderates in the House reluctant to vote on a measure that will not become law, Ms. Pelosi has said she will not proceed with the reconciliation bill until it is clear what the Senate can pass.

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