Desperate to revive his stalled $1.7 trillion economic spending package, President Biden on Wednesday will meet with the heads of some of the nation’s largest utility companies to renew his push for the package’s climate provisions.
The White House event will be the first major effort by Mr. Biden to highlight pieces of the massive spending bill since it was derailed last year by Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat.
Mr. Biden acknowledged last month that he needs to break up the massive legislation and pass it in smaller parts.
He will start with the package’s $550 billion in energy and climate spending. Included in that is more than $300 billion in new and expanded tax credits for wind and solar power, nuclear plants, and other items that have won support from utility companies.
Despite the shift in strategy, the president’s bid to pass his climate agenda is filled with pitfalls.
Mr. Biden would need every Senate Democrat on board with the climate provisions for it to clear the upper chamber and head to his desk. But Democrats’ hope of passing any legislation on their own took a hit last week when Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, New Mexico Democrat, underwent surgery after suffering a stroke.
Every Republican has opposed the plan, arguing that it would increase inflation, which is already at its highest level in 40 years.
Mr. Biden is going to make the case for his climate agenda starting with the utility companies. Among the utility leaders attending the meeting are the CEOs of American Electrical Power, DTE Energy, Exelon, Southern Company, Duke Energy and others.
In a statement, the White House said the executives convening with the president are onboard with his climate proposals.
“[T]hey know that the best way to ensure future economic growth is to make long-term investments that will combat the climate crisis, increase the competitiveness of our industries and protect our electrical grid from extreme weather events — all while lowering costs for American families across the country,” the statement said.
The meeting comes as Democrats have re-upped calls for Mr. Biden to advance the climate provisions in the spending package, known as Build Back Better.
Those provisions have cleared the House but stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Mr. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat.
The White House believes that an agreement on the bill’s climate measures could be reached with the two centrist Democrats, making it a likely choice for the first portion of the spending package to tout.
“I think the climate change aspect of the bill is one of the aspects that has the most life to it,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist. “Joe Manchin has mentioned that he is generally supportive of the climate aspect, and there is support for it in the House.”
Mr. Manchin, who has fought against many of the legislation’s proposals, has suggested that its original climate provisions could be preserved. But he has been vague about which climate provisions he would back.
“The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else,” he said in December. “There’s a lot of good things in there.”
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Biden is zeroing in the climate provisions because it’s an issue that would most resonate with his leftist base amid dismal approval ratings.
Not only is Mr. Biden’s approval rating mired in the mid-30s, but polls show voters are skeptical of his Build Back Better agenda. Only 41% of respondents to a December NPR/Marist poll said they support the spending package. Nearly 75% of Democrats backed the plan, while 36% of independents and 13%of Republicans said they support it.
“The Democrats are excited about the climate change provision, and no one else is,” Mr. O’Connell said. “He’s trying to get a consensus among the base of his party and then build out from there.”
Mr. O’Connell said the president is taking on too much at once with the Senate. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, Mr. Biden is pushing the upper chamber to pass portions of his spending package, legislation that would overhaul the nation’s elections, and bills that would change policing in America. He also needs to get the Senate to confirm his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“He’s wasting everyone’s time,” Mr. O’Connell said of the president. “He’s trying to message ahead of midterms that the Republicans are blocking his agenda when in reality it’s his own party blocking him.”
As Mr. Seawright sees it, Wednesday’s CEO meeting is a strong first step toward advancing Mr. Biden’s climate proposals.
“He is talking to people and talking to groups,” he said. “When you put those things together, you have a community. The president is smart by engaging the business community on the climate aspect.”