President Joe Biden went up to the Senate on Wednesday (14 July) in an effort to get Democrats to commit to his historic, high-wire bid to transform the United States with trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending.
“We’re going to get this done,” he said as he went into lunch with Democratic senators.
Biden then returned to the White House to meet with both Democratic and Republican state governors and mayors on the same topic.
He is pushing hard to get two huge spending packages passed within the next couple of months.
“This is a process. There are steps to go. He’s going to continue to advocate. He’s going to continue to talk with, engage with members,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “You’re going to see him doing that until both pieces of legislation are passed.”
Biden has surprised many with the scale of his desire for big government intervention, which he is subtly but clearly branding as a revival of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who pulled the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
With trillions of post-coronavirus pandemic stimulus spending already out the door, Biden now wants to focus on infrastructure investments targeting everything from creaking bridges to inadequate public education.
Because many Republican lawmakers favor some infrastructure spending, at least when it comes to the “hard” version, like roads and bridges, Biden is also using his campaign to show he can achieve the kind of bipartisanship thought largely extinct in divided Washington.
In a balancing act that could make or break his presidency this summer, Biden is negotiating an approximately $1.2 trillion spending plan that Republicans would join, while simultaneously pursuing a much bigger version targeting “soft” infrastructure, like education, that only Democrats would support.
$3.5 trillion magic number?
The challenge goes far beyond overcoming toxic Republican-Democratic antagonism in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Biden also needs to thread the needle within his own party.
The Democrats range from middle-of-the-road figures, like Senator Joe Manchin, who comes from the largely Republican state of West Virginia, to fiery, self-proclaimed socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.
In a breakthrough late Tuesday, top Democrats in the Senate emerged from a huddle to announce they had agreed on a price tag of $3.5 trillion for the second infrastructure package.
This is way off Sanders’ proposal of as much as $6 trillion in spending.
However, at $3.5 trillion, it would already be historic and Democrats said it meets all their priorities, including fighting climate change and boosting social welfare for the poor. By comparison, $3.5 trillion is not far off the entire annual GDP of European economic powerhouse Germany.
“Every major program that President Biden has asked us for is funded in a robust way,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a key Biden ally and the driving force behind the rapid timetable for both infrastructure packages.
Psaki acknowledged that Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill shows there’s a ways to go.
“If there were enough votes for each of these priorities there would be a vote and it would have happened. So I will say that he’s headed up to the Hill because it’s the natural next step,” she said.
However, just “a couple weeks ago, everyone said this was dead, it wasn’t going to happen,” she noted. “They’re both moving forward.”
The Democrats’ aim is to pass this larger deal through so-called budget reconciliation, a technical maneuver that would allow them to bypass the need for Republican support.
Democrats, who have only a razor-thin majority in Congress and need some Republican support for most bills, used the same procedural move in March to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package without Republican backing.