President Joe Biden told congressional Democrats on Friday that he was open to scaling back a bill to boost social spending and fight climate change, but wanted to pass it in lock-step with a $1 trillion infrastructure program, lawmakers said.
Biden’s visit to the Capitol capped a tumultuous week that saw lawmakers narrowly avert a government shutdown and postpone a House of Representatives vote on the infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate.
The president told reporters after his 40-minute meeting with the fractious Democratic caucus that there was no rush to pass his agenda. Democrats had spent much of the week sparring about the size of a bill once estimated to cost $3.5 trillion.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or in six weeks. We’re going to get it done,” Biden said.
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. Lawmakers who attended the meeting said he signaled willingness to sharply cut the $3.5 trillion price tag to around $2 trillion.
A source familiar with Biden’s remarks at the meeting said he told lawmakers, “Even a smaller bill can make historic investments.”
House moderates had pushed for a vote this week on the $1 trillion bill already passed by the Senate to double investments in the nation’s roads, rails and other infrastructure. But progressives blocked it, fearful that passing the smaller bill would torpedo the larger one.
While Biden told lawmakers there was no immediate time pressure to pass the bills, Congress is facing two key deadlines in the weeks ahead.
The Treasury Department estimates that it has until about Oct. 18 for the government’s $28.4 trillion borrowing limit to be raised by Congress or risk a debt default with potentially catastrophic economic consequences. Then on Dec. 3, the nation faces the risk of a government shutdown that could be politically damaging for Democrats.
By early next year, attention will focus on the midterm elections in November 2022, where history favors Republicans’ chances of recapturing a majority in Congress.