President Joe Biden traveled to Capitol Hill on Friday to try to mend divisions in his Democratic Party that threaten his ambitious plans to bolster safety-net programs, fight climate change and rebuild the nation's roads and bridges.
Biden did not speak as he entered the Capitol building, where he was due to meet with Democrats in the House of Representatives, who remain at odds over two massive spending bills that form the core of his domestic agenda.
Members of the party's progressive wing vow to block a $1 trillion infrastructure bill until they can be sure that centrists will not derail a larger social spending and climate change bill. Centrists say that bill's current $3.5 trillion price tag is too high.
"He wants to speak directly to members, answer their questions and make the case for why we should all work together to give the American people more breathing room," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing.
U.S. presidents rarely visit Capitol Hill, preferring to summon lawmakers to the White House for discussions. Democrats said they hoped Biden's visit could help renew momentum.
"I think the president might be the only person that can bridge both the trust gap and the timing gap," said Representative Dean Phillips.
Democratic leaders in the House did not appear to have a clear plan to resolve the impasse after an earlier meeting. "We are working on trying to get to a place where everybody is comfortable," No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer told reporters.
With a narrow majority in the House, Biden's party cannot afford to lose too many votes on the infrastructure legislation, which would double spending on roads, pipes and other infrastructure. The bill has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
Democrats said they also planned a vote to ensure that transportation funding, which expired on Thursday, is not disrupted while they continue to negotiate.
Progressives have said they would not vote for the infrastructure bill until the party agrees on a version of the social spending bill that they deem acceptable.
Progressives are angry that two Senate moderates - Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema - oppose the size of Biden's "Build Back Better" plan to boost social spending and fight climate change. The Senate is split 50-50 with Republicans, all of whom oppose the multi-trillion-dollar bill, so every Democratic vote is needed for passage with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie breaker.
Manchin has proposed a spending package of about $1.5 trillion. Sinema on Thursday declined to say whether she agreed with Manchin's proposal. She has met with Biden multiple times to discuss the bill. She was home in Arizona on Friday but remained in touch with the White House, a spokesman said.
House Republicans are unlikely to help pass the infrastructure bill, eager to deny Biden a policy victory ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when history favors their chances to recapture majorities.
Congress, which averted a politically damaging government shutdown on Thursday, has little time to focus on the infrastructure fight due to another fast-approaching deadline: the debt ceiling.
A historic U.S. debt default could occur around Oct. 18, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has estimated, if Congress fails to give the government additional borrowing authority beyond the current statutory limit of $28.4 trillion.
Republicans want no part of the debt limit increase, saying it is Democrats' problem since they control Congress and the White House. Democrats note that about $5 trillion of the nation's debt is the result of tax cuts and spending passed during Republican Donald Trump's presidency.
The House approved a bill late on Wednesday suspending the debt limit through December 2022. The Senate could vote on it "as early as next week," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, but Republicans are expected to block it again as they have twice before.
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