Biden holds intensive talks with Democrats on saving his agenda

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Joe Biden held intensive talks with competing factions of his Democratic party on Tuesday (Oct 19) in an attempt to save his agenda in Congress before time runs out.

After weeks of stalemate between the leftist and more conservative wings of the party over the cost and scope of his plans to expand the social safety net, Biden is ramping up the pace.

“Today, he is spending virtually, literally every minute of his day meeting with members of Congress and I think that’s a reflection of how urgent he feels,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“Our effort is on continuing to make progress,” she said.

“We’re getting close to the final stages here. We’re working to getting agreement.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sounded an optimistic note after a lunch meeting with fellow Democrats, saying there was “universal agreement” on reaching a deal and it should be “this week.”

“The pace has picked up, the desire to get it done is strong,” he told reporters.

Biden met with two key Democratic senators – Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – whose opposition to the US$3.5 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) price tag on his social spending Bill amounts to a veto, given that Democrats need unanimity to get anything through the evenly split Senate.

He was also meeting with groups of left-leaning and moderate Democratic lawmakers in two separate meetings. On Wednesday, he will give a speech to promote his plans in Scranton, the blue collar Pennsylvania city where he spent part of his childhood.

Manchin has said he will only agree to US$1.5 trillion for the social spending Bill, which Biden says would address fundamental inequalities through expansion of free education and child care.

Worried about the fate of that Bill, a powerful leftist faction in the House of Representatives has responded by blocking passage of a separate US$1.2 trillion Bill for improving US infrastructure that most Democrats and also a significant number of Republicans want to see passed.

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While the two sides are publicly still at loggerheads, threatening to leave the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda in ruins, Psaki was optimistic.

“Our goal is to make progress and based on the morning meetings and our expectation of the afternoon meetings, we expect they will do exactly that,” she said.

“We’ve had months to consider, debate, litigate,” she said.

“It will come time soon to move forward and deliver for the American people.”

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