President Biden called off a scheduled trip to Chicago late Tuesday as Democratic divisions over the fate of two massive bills worth a total of $4.7 trillion threatened to torpedo the president’s domestic agenda.
Biden was scheduled to hit the Windy City Wednesday to give remarks on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for businesses. However, a White House official said that the visit would be postponed so the president can help push both pieces of legislation over the finish line in the House of Representatives.
“In meetings and calls over the weekend and through today, President Biden has been engaging with members of Congress on the path forward for the Build Back Better Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal,” the official said. “He will now remain at the White House tomorrow to continue working on advancing these two pieces of legislation to create jobs, grow the economy, and make investments in families, rather than failed giveaways to the rich and big corporations.”
Lawmakers in the House are expected to vote Thursday on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month. Far-left Democrats have warned that they will vote against the measure if the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act is not passed by the House and Senate first.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) poured cold water on that plan Monday night, telling members of her conference that the $3.5 trillion spending proposal was not yet ready to go.
A handful of Republicans are expected to support the infrastructure bill in defiance of instructions from GOP leadership, but it is not clear how many. That uncertainty, along with questions about the number of progressives who will fall in behind the measure, could create a mathematical headache for Pelosi — who bragged to reporters last month: “I don’t go to the Floor and lose [votes].”
The drama took another turn Tuesday when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and the primary author of the $3.5 trillion social spending spree — urged House progressives to hold the infrastructure bill hostage until the larger measure is approved by Congress.
Sanders argued in a Twitter threat that if the $1.2 trillion bill was passed this week, it would “end all leverage that we have to pass a major reconciliation bill.
“That means there will be no serious effort to address the long-neglected crises facing the working families of our country, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” Sanders added. “It also means that Congress will continue to ignore the existential threat to our country and planet with regard to climate change. I strongly urge my House colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill.”
Democrats are attempting to move the $3.5 trillion measure through the House and Senate with no Republican support. However, Sanders has a mathematical headache of his own: In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats cannot have a single senator from their side turn against the bill, yet Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have already said they will not support the reconciliation measure at its current cost.
Both Manchin and Sinema met with Biden at the White House Tuesday, but have not publicly revealed what amount would make them comfortable with supporting a reconciliation measure. Politico reported Tuesday night that Sinema had told the president she was hesitant to talk specifics before the infrastructure bill clears the House.
“This is the third time she said she has told the president, ‘I’m not there. I’ve been very clear with you from the start,’” the outlet quoted a person close to the senator who relayed Sinema’s comments to Biden.
Meanwhile, Manchin called on House Democrats to get behind the infrastructure bill, telling reporters that “holding one hostage over the other is not fair, it’s not right. It’s not good for the country.”
“They have a right to do whatever they think and that’s a political agenda,” he added. “I’m looking at the needs of our country.”
Meanwhile, one House Democrat suggested that Biden take in Wednesday night’s Congressional Baseball Game if he wants to patch up his party’s rifts.
“If he really wants to talk to members and twist some arms,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) told The Post, “he should come to the baseball game.”