President Joe Biden returned to the White House on Sunday night together with first lady Jill Biden after a weekend away at Camp David at the start of what is expected to be a high stakes week in his presidency.
There is confidence among Democrats that massive infrastructure bill will pass this week but it may not be until Thursday rather than Monday before a vote is held with critical work still left remaining to meet the party’s deadlines.
Democrats have been scrambling to hammer out a landmark plan to upgrade the nation’s roads and bridges, but are also under immense pressure to finalize a $3.5 trillion public investment package and fund the government to avert a looming shutdown – all by Thursday September 30.
Asked at the White House on Sunday whether the Democrats had the votes they needed, Biden said: ‘I’m optimistic about this week. It’s going to take the better part of the week, I think,’ he told reporters.
It’s a high stakes week in Washington with President Joe Biden’s broad domestic agenda at risk of collapse
The week is among the most critical of President Joe Biden’s tenure, with opposition Republicans digging in against his Build Back Better program that would invest in climate change policy, lower childcare and education costs for working families and create millions of jobs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has voiced confidence that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has already cleared the Senate with bipartisan support will pass the House of Representatives ‘this week’ but has hinted at potential quicksand ahead.
Debate on the legislation, which passed the Senate with Democratic and Republican support on August 10 will help fund road, bridge, airport, school and other construction projects.
President Joe Biden answers a few questions from reporters as he returns to the White House from Camp David, in Washington, DC
‘I’m never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn’t have the votes,’ the top Democrat in Congress told ABC News on Sunday.
‘You cannot choose the date. You have to go when you have the votes, in a reasonable time. And we will.
‘We are now working together with the Senate and the White House on changes to this historic legislation,’ she added.
‘We´ll see how the number comes down and what we need. Again, the Senate and the House, those who are not in full agreement with the president, right, let´s see what our values – let´s not talk about numbers and dollars. Let´s talk about values.’
Biden told reporters on Sunday he was ‘optimistic’ Pelosi would get the agenda through the house this week, adding ‘it’s going to take the better part of the week.’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has voiced confidence that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that has already cleared the Senate with bipartisan support will pass the House of Representatives ‘this week’ but has hinted at potential quicksand ahead
Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues in a letter Saturday that they ‘must’ pass both of Biden’s huge spending bills, along with legislation that keeps the federal government operating into the next fiscal year beginning October 1.
‘The next few days will be a time of intensity,’ she wrote.
‘Tomorrow, September 27, we will begin debate on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework on the Floor of the House and vote on it on Thursday, September 30, the day on which the surface transportation authorization expires,’ Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats that was released by her office.
But it is not just opposition from Republicans Pelosi needs to counter; Democratic progressives and moderates have also made it clear they need to see quickly exactly what goes in the $3.5 trillion bill.
‘The votes aren’t there, so I don’t think she’s going to bring it’ to the floor Monday, congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the House progressives, told CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ regarding the infrastructure bill.
The week is among the most critical of President Joe Biden’s tenure, with opposition Republicans digging in against his Build Back Better program that will invest in climate change policy, lower childcare and education costs for working families creating millions of jobs
House progressives have repeatedly warned that they won’t green-light infrastructure without Build Back Better.
In order to get the historic spending bill to Biden’s desk, Democrats are using a process called ‘reconciliation,’ which allows certain budget-related legislation to pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than 60 votes.
But moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed deep reservations about the huge price tag.
With the Senate evenly split 50-50, their votes would be critical to passing the bill — something that Pelosi, herself a master vote-counter, is keenly aware of.
Democrats have few votes to spare in the House and no votes to spare in the 50-50 Senate if there is no Republican support to enact Biden´s massive ‘Build Back Better’ agenda. Republicans are lockstep against the larger measure.
While all Democrats ‘overwhelmingly’ support Biden’s grand vision, it was ‘self-evident’ that the final price tag for Build Back Better will be lowered, Pelosi said.
She also stressed the importance of funding the government to avoid a looming shutdown, and suspending the debt ceiling to allow federal agencies to make loan repayments.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would accomplish both goals.
But Senate Republicans have balked over extending the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority this time around, a position Pelosi described as ‘irresponsible beyond words.’
Some progressive lawmakers insist the $1 trillion infrastructure bill be held back until the bigger measure is ready. Moderates want the infrastructure bill enacted whatever the progress on the larger package, which includes provisions for expanding healthcare for children and the elderly and for investing in steps to drastically reduce emissions blamed on climate change.
Pelosi did not specifically address how the divisions within the Democratic Party would be bridged, but said the final figure for the larger measure would be lower than $3.5 trillion.
‘That was the number that was sent to us by the Senate and by the president. Obviously with negotiation, there has to be some changes in that the sooner the better, so that we can build our consensus to go forward,’ she said.
First lady Jill Biden waits for President Joe Biden who walks away from members of the media as they arrive at the White House in Washington on Sunday – ready for a busy week ahead