President Biden urged progressive House Democrats Friday to scale back his proposed $3.5 trillion social-welfare package by one-third, a move that would align more closely with the demands of two moderate Democratic senators who are resisting the higher price tag.
After days of intensive negotiations with the two feuding wings of his party, Mr. Biden visited the Capitol to call on Democratic lawmakers to complete his two-part agenda, including a $1-trillion-plus infrastructure bill that his bipartisan support. In his late pitch to end the standoff, Mr. Biden was trying to salvage the two key parts of his domestic policy.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done,” Mr. Biden told reporters after emerging from the closed-door meeting in the House.
Democrats said Mr. Biden had two requests — to lower the cost of the social-welfare bill to roughly $2 trillion, and to approve both bills.
While Democrats leaving the meeting said some progress had been made in bringing the diverse members of the party together, differences remained, and it was unclear if the sides were any closer.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington state Democrat and co-chair of the progressive caucus, said Mr. Biden didn’t put a deadline on the work but asked lawmakers to approve both measures. She indicated progressives would lower their sights from $3.5 trillion.
“It’s going to be tough — we’re going to have to come down on our number and we’re going to have to do that work,” she told reporters. “We’re going to get to work and see what we can get to. There was no timetable.”
Still, the president’s requests did not immediately resolve the months-long internal debate in his party. Progressives such as Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, and others have been insisting that $3.5 trillion in the minimum needed to address social issues such as climate change, child care, paid leave and other liberal initiatives.
And Mr. Biden’s open-ended pitch further delayed passage of the infrastructure bill, which moderate House Democrats had been guaranteed by party leaders would receive a vote earlier this week, before the costlier bill came up for consideration.
Mrs. Pelosi has spoken about the need to set deadlines to push lawmakers to compromise. On Saturday, she reminded House Democrats that a temporary extension to federal transportation passed by the House Friday night will run out on Oct. 31. She urged the Democrats to pass the infrastructure bill, which would create construction projects around the country, “well before then – the sooner the better — to get the jobs out there.”
Still, a key senator, Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has said he is not willing to support a social welfare package bigger than $1.5 trillion. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, also has raised objections to the larger package.
Rep. Stephen Horsford, Nevada Democrat, said of Mr. Biden floating the scaled-back $1.9 trillion to $2.1 trillion figure, “It’s a reality and there’s two senators in particular, who have indicated where they are.”
Mr. Horsford said that even with the smaller figure, the left could make progress on some of its priorities.
“I’ve never chased a number,” he said. “I’ve been focused on the substance of delivering for my constituents in Nevada’s fourth district around health care, climate change, cutting taxes for middle-class families and creating good-paying jobs. We could do that and continue to build. This is not the last piece of legislation we’re going to pass in Congress.”
But Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Texas, said he still wants House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push ahead with bringing the infrastructure bill up to a vote, despite threats from those on the far left to vote it down.
The visit follows a morning meeting of the House Democratic Caucus that failed to resolve the split in the party that has put in jeopardy both Mr. Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and his $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net.
The caucus meeting broke up around noon with no deal in sight and members talking about negotiating through the weekend.
On one side of the split are moderate Democrats leery of the giant spending bill but eager to approve $1.2 trillion of road, bridge, airport and public transit projects. That measure also has Republican support.
On the other side, the party’s progressive wing doesn’t want to let the infrastructure spending pass without an iron-clad deal to get the social welfare and climate change programs approved.
Ms. Jayapal said there was some tension during the earlier meeting.
Rep. Angie Craig, Minnesota Democrat, emerged from the closed-door powwow and joked that she saw one bright side to the infighting — there was no profanity from Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
“He didn’t use any swear words in the meeting this morning,” she said. “That’s always good.”
Mr. Cuellar predicted a deal to vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package would not happen on Friday, despite assurance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“It won’t happen today,” Mr. Cuellar said as he left the caucus meeting.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, has broken promises made to moderates for a vote Monday and then Thursday, delaying it each time because there were not enough Democratic votes to pass it.
The delay in passing the infrastructure bill allowed federal transportation funding to lapse Thursday night, which forced the Transportation Department to furlough 3,700 workers. The House on Friday night passed a stopgap bill to extend the funding another 30 days. Fifty-one Republicans voted against the bill, which passed 365-51.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr. Biden believed it was “the right time for him to go up there” to speak with lawmakers.
“These are his proposals. These are his bold ideas,” she said. “He wants to speak directly to members, answer their questions and make the case for why we should all work together to give the American people some breathing room.”
Ms. Psaki pushed back on criticism, including from Democrats, that Mr. Biden was getting involved in the negotiations too late in the process.
“Anyone who’s ever been through a legislative fight before knows that the negotiations and deal-making always happens at the end,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how the process works or how many weeks there are, it always happens at the end.”
But Ms. Psaki declined to say if she was optimistic a deal could be struck Friday, referring questions about the timing of a potential vote to Mrs. Pelosi.
On the other side of the Capitol, White House negotiations were expected to continue with moderates Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema. They’ve been the chief obstacle to passing the massive spending bill, which they insist is too expensive.
Democrats need the support all 50 of their members in the Senate to force the bill through the chamber without any Republican support.
Ms. Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, vowed that progressives would vote down the infrastructure package unless moderates allow the larger social welfare and climate package to pass.
“The reason I want to vote is because I want to be assured that there is no delay and that there’s no misunderstandings about what we agreed to,” she said.
In urging the Democrats to pass the two packages together, Mr. Biden sought to resolve the split in which progressives have threatened to block the infrastructure package without an iron-clad deal to get the social welfare and climate change programs approved. Moderates have pressed for moving ahead with infrastructure and dealing with the party’s differences over the larger bill later.
By saying that one should not pass without the other, Mr. Biden took the side of the left.
Mr. Manchin on Thursday said he would not agree to spending more than $1.5 trillion, less than half of what Mr. Biden and liberal Democrats want.
The House’s delay of a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package is drawing heat from Democratic allies who stand to benefit from the jobs its projects would create.
Laborers’ International Union of North America, a progressive union that represents 500,000 U.S. and Canadian workers in the construction trades, blasted the delays on Friday.
“After all the chaos caused in Congress by the Tea Party, it’s demoralizing to see so-called Progressives using the same tactics,” union vice president Dennis L. Martire said in a statement to the Washington Times. “If they think our members are going to forget that they decided to take our jobs hostage, they’re deluding themselves. Every time they delay this vote, progressives are bleeding votes that the party won’t be able to get back.”