Instead, he emphasized that he wanted both bills ready before voting on a separate bill.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s six minutes, six days, or six weeks — we’re going to make it happen,” Biden told reporters during the Capitol visit.
Biden’s journey to the hill and his downplay of the need for swift action underlined the collective power that the progressive caucus of House Democrats now has in a closely divided chamber. And it raised questions about whether those progressives would stick together to oppose Biden’s call for a more modest appeasement bill — questions Biden wanted to address directly by emphasizing that the bill would significantly advance his economic agenda.
“I wrote that damn bill… Even a smaller bill can make historic investments — historic investments in childcare, childcare, clean energy. You get a lot of things done,” Biden told them, according to a person familiar with his comments: “We can be consistent and build on [the Covid-relief bill], do not withdraw.”
“I know a little bit about the legislative process,” he said. “I don’t remember before, on fundamental issues… that we don’t have to compromise.”
The comments come at the end of a week that started with great expectations – but also great uncertainty – for Biden’s agenda. It ended with the fate of that agenda still in the air. Biden entered the Capitol with great fanfare on Friday, an entourage of nine White House aides in tow. In the end he walked out empty-handed, a deadline set by Speaker Nancy Pelosi had come and gone, and tensions between factions of his party were still apparent.
“He tried to make both sides understand what the reality is. But now I think there are people angry on both sides,” Representative Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said in an interview. “I appreciate the efforts to get both sides together, but apparently it didn’t work out.”
Moderates expressed frustration that Biden was tacitly approving progressives to stop the infrastructure package, which the Senate had passed with full Democratic support and the support of 19 Republicans.
In his comments to lawmakers, Biden said that without backing from the House progressives, he didn’t think there were enough votes to pass the infrastructure bill in that chamber. A source familiar with his comments said Biden added that if he felt there were voices for the infrastructure, he would have pushed for it.
The White House also argued this week that progressives’ demands — to expand childcare, take action against climate change and expand assistance to the elderly — are simply reflections of Biden’s own Build Back Better plan.
Now the goodwill that the White House has built with the left is being put to the test.
“Progressives were Biden’s best friend this week for keeping the ceiling high,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “The standard will be less about a dollar amount and more. Will we fund all the major priorities Democrats have promised to a viable amount and get them off the ground?”
Zac Petkanas, a senior adviser to advocacy group Invest in America Action, who has worked to get the reconciliation package, acknowledged Biden had told progressives to expect less. But, he argued, he also told moderates to give more.
“This was a rallying cry for members of Congress to get this done,” Petkanas said. Part of Biden’s message, he said, was to convey that “the policies of creating jobs, cutting taxes and cutting costs are too important, and related to a political necessity, on the way to the midterm elections. The fates of everyone here are intertwined.”
Ben Tulchin, a Democratic pollster who has worked for Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) among others, said progressives have been wise to hold their own on the social spending party line, suggesting that — now that negotiations are now intensifying around the reconciliation package – Biden should fight harder for what will likely be his best shot at tackling a range of programs from health care to education to climate.
“I hoped he would learn the lessons from Obama, which is that you have to fight for this. You can’t just negotiate with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. You have to go to war. That’s what this is,” Tulchin said.
Such a fight, Tulchin said, could include traveling to the senators’ home states of West Virginia and Arizona to get a message across to residents: “You all support this and your two senators should too.” !”
But Tulchin acknowledged that slamming the two senators was not part of Biden’s nature. And, reflecting the political calculations and compromises the left must now make, he also reasoned that passing the two bills would be an essential part of the Democratic Party’s fight against the historic political headwinds of the upcoming midterm elections.
“A win will be useful anyway,” he said. “And it will still do a lot of good. But they will have to cut a lot of things. So they’re going to have to sell the benefits they’ve brought in.”