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Biden meeting with top Democrats as infrastructure, spending deadlines loom

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President Biden is being forced to referee congressional Democrats in hopes of saving his top two domestic priorities from being felled by intraparty divisions.

Mr. Biden is set to host Wednesday at the White House Democratic leaders and senators who hold swing votes. In a series of meetings, the president will stress the need for Democratic unity, especially as the House prepares to vote next week on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and the Senate works on Mr. Biden’s $3.5 trillion domestic spending bill.

“The president is the leader of the national party,” said a Democratic aide. “In these Oval Office meetings, he can bring the full pressure of the White House down on lawmakers and urge them to work together for the good of the country and their party.”

By any measure, Mr. Biden will have his work cut out for him. Moderate Democrats are urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep her word and hold a vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Sept. 27.

“I am incredibly optimistic that we will send the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the president’s desk now, not later and I am confident in Speaker Pelosi’s ability to make that happen,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat who negotiated the Sept. 27 deadline with House leadership. “There is too much on the line for us to wait.”

Mrs. Pelosi has pledged to keep her word on the timeline, but many expect the California Democrat to renege at the last moment. Pressure from far-left Democrats will be the key.

The 98-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has signaled it will not back the infrastructure package until the Senate has finalized and passed the $3.5 trillion social welfare bill. Progressives say the infrastructure deal does not go far enough to combat climate change and address “systemic inequalities” in health care and the economy.

“There are people in our caucus who don’t like the bill, the bipartisan bill,” said Rep. Pramila Jaypal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the CPC. “So let’s just get these two bills done. Let’s get the negotiation done.”

Moderate senators, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are loath to back the bigger social welfare bill.

Democrats are pitching the $3.5 trillion measure as “human infrastructure,” claiming it complements the traditional infrastructure that focuses on roads, bridges, railway and airport projects.

In reality, the bigger bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities such as proposals for climate change, amnesty for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, tuition-free community college and expanded health care programs.

Given Republicans’ solid opposition, Democrats plan to pass the $3.5 trillion package via a special process known as budget reconciliation. It allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the Senate‘s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Since the Senate is evenly split between both parties, any single lawmaker can exert significant influence over any piece of legislation.

Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema appear to be doing exactly that. The two lawmakers have called for trimming the price tag from $3.5 trillion to something more manageable, like $1.5 trillion. 

Mr. Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, has also promised to block stringent climate change regulations that seek to phase out coal and natural gas from electricity production.

Progressives argue that a smaller, watered-down package is worthless.

“These ideas and these policies are widely popular,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts Democrat. “That is because they meet the moment … what is the point of Democrats having the House, the Senate and the White House.”

With Democrats hold slim majorities in the House and the Senate, Mr. Biden cannot afford to lose any single vote on the infrastructure and reconciliation bills. At the moment, it appears that neither measure has enough votes to pass.

That reality has Mr. Biden scrambling to save both bills by asserting his position as leader of the Democratic Party. Mr. Biden is expected to come down particularly hard on Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema during the White House meetings.

“They’re the key that unlocks both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills,” said the Democratic aid. “Hopefully, the president can make them see that the majority of Democrats stand against them.”

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