President Joe Biden on Saturday acknowledged frustrations as Democrats strain to rescue a scaled-back version of his $3.5 trillion government-overhaul plan and salvage a related public works bill after frantic negotiations.
“Everybody is frustrated. That’s part of being in government,” Mr. Biden told reporters before leaving the White House for a weekend stay at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He pledged to “work like hell” to get the two pillars of his domestic agenda passed into law, but refrained from laying out a new deadline.
The bottom line: Mr. Biden will need more time to push the bills across the finish line.
There was a change of strategy for the president on Friday. Hefor a private meeting with House Democrats that was partly a morale booster for the disjointed caucus of lawmakers. According to lawmakers in the room, he discussed a $1.9 trillion to $2 trillion-plus price tag for the larger package that would expand the country’s social safety net.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday that the president left the meeting “with the firm belief that there was a shared commitment from across the Democratic Caucus to deliver for the American people.”
Mr. Biden and his team will now “continue close engagement with Members of both the House and the Senate through the weekend,” said Psaki. “And he looks forward to not only welcoming Members to the White House next week, but also traveling the country to make the case for his bold and ambitious agenda.”
The president pledged to do more to educate the public about the plan’s new and expanded programs, which he contended have the support of the vast majority of the electorate.
“I’m going to try to sell what I think the American people will buy,” Mr. Biden said Saturday, adding, “I believe that when the American people are aware of what’s in it we’ll get it done.”
The president said he believed the legislation will be signed into law with “plenty of time to change the tax code for people next year.”
It’s a pivotal time for Mr. Biden and the party. His approval ratings have dropped and Democrats are restless, eager to deliver on his signature campaign promise of rebuilding the country. His ideas go beyond roads-and-bridges infrastructure to delivering dental, vision and hearing care for seniors, free prekindergarten, major efforts to tackle climate change and other investments that would touch countless American lives.
Holdout Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia had dashed hopes for a swift compromise on a framework when he refused to budge late Thursday on his demands for a smaller overall package, about $1.5 trillion.
Without a broader deal, prospects for a vote on the companion public works bill stalled out as progressives refused to commit until senators reached agreement.
The House passed a 30-day measure to keep transportation programs running during the stalemate, essentially setting a new deadline for talks, October 31. The Senate was set to follow with a vote Saturday, to halt the furloughs of more than 3,500 federal transportation workers, a byproduct of the political impasse.