President Joe Biden is changing his strategy to sell off his ambitious social spending plans by traveling outside of Washington courting Democrats who have complained they felt left out of the process.
With his agenda on Capitol Hill in jeopardy, Biden will be visiting the Michigan district on Tuesday of a moderate Democratic legislature that has urged him to promote his proposals more aggressively in public. Back in Washington, negotiations continue on two bills to increase spending on safety nets, health and environmental programs, and infrastructure projects.
While cautious optimism about recent progress has been made, no agreement has been reached to bridge the large gaps between moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party on the size and scope of the package. In the past few weeks as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked unsuccessfully to pass the law, Biden stayed in Washington to flatter lawmakers and handle phones.
Now he’s trying to focus the public on popular parts of the bills rather than having the price inside the belt debate.
The president will appear with Democratic MP Elise Slotkin when he visits a union training center in Howell, Michigan, a sign of the importance of securing the moderate votes. Besides Biden, the Democrats who are most at stake in the shape and success of his spending plans are House members from swing districts, whose re-elections are essential if his party is to retain control of Congress.
Democratic lawmakers have warned that Biden’s bold ideas will be lost in the party’s power struggles and procedural disputes over legislation.
“We have to convey to the country the transformative nature of the initiatives in the legislature,” Pelosi said in a letter to the legislature before Biden’s trip.
The visit to the Slotkin neighborhood, which Republican Donald Trump barely carried in 2020, is part of the sales effort.
Slotkin supports a $ 1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate, but prefers to pass it in the House of Representatives before negotiating the broader $ 3.5 trillion package of welfare programs. She has hinted that she may be able to vote for adoption of the broader bill sooner if it is fiscally responsible and can make a difference for families, her advisors said, but she’s not a guaranteed yes – which she wanted to tell Biden on Tuesday.
“To be honest, it was hard for me to understand why the leadership decided to tie the two bills in the first place,” Slotkin recently told The Detroit News. “We don’t usually work like that. It’s not my preference. ”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that after Biden spent a lot of time in the chaotic negotiations over the bills over the past few days, “Now it’s also important to remind people that sausage-making is in The last few years a kind of dominant plot was a couple of weeks, what this is about and why he’s fighting so hard for it. “
Biden postponed a trip to Chicago last week, where he planned to promote coronavirus vaccine mandates and work on a pitch for his agenda to stay in Washington and sway lawmakers. He has postponed this trip to Thursday and more trips are expected in the coming days.
The increase in travel is intended to boost public support for a variety of initiatives bundled under the imprecise slogan “Build Back Better”. A number of crises, from Afghanistan to COVID-19, as well as the complicated legislative process, have hampered the White House‘s ability to promote the massive package, or even to say definitively what will be in the final version.
Surveys suggest that elements of the bill such as expanded childcare facilities and infrastructure projects are popular with large sections of the public. But even some of the White House’s closest allies have worried that the West Wing hasn’t done enough to sell it.
Biden, aides said, was keen to shift the conversation away from the price tag and towards the benefits of legislation. In Michigan, he planned to boast the benefits to the middle class and union workers.
Washington was gripped by the drama last week when lawmakers grappled with the massive Democratic-only Social Spending Bill that was linked to the Infrastructure Bill. Progressives have been reluctant to reduce the size of the $ 3.5 trillion welfare package and have refused to vote for the infrastructure bill when the other bill shrinks. Moderate Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to get a House vote first, and some are suspicious of the size of the much larger social spending bill.
With this, Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress are at a crossroads trying to break through the legal clutter and remind voters of what they are trying to achieve. The president held a virtual meeting with 12 progressive House MPs on Monday and plans a similar meeting with moderates later in the week.
With considerable attention directed to engaging two key Democratic Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, ordinary lawmakers could benefit from the high-profile support that Biden brings to bringing his vision to the public.
Members of the House fan out to their home districts this week as public opinion is shaped on Biden’s agenda. The Senators remain in Washington but are working on another ball of paper, the legislation needed to raise the country’s debt ceiling by mid-month to avert a devastating loan default.
Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and White House officials huddled in a room outside the Senate late Monday to discuss the next steps in getting Biden’s agenda passed.
These behind-the-scenes talks are intense as Biden is cutting the size and scope of the $ 3.5 trillion social spending package to win Manchin, Sinema, and a small group of Conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives without alienating the progressives who struggle to to keep their priorities in the bill.
Associated Press authors Lisa Mascaro of Washington and David Eggert of Lansing, Michigan contributed to this report.