Six months after Biden took office, his signature “Build Back Better” campaign promise is at a key moment that will test the presidency and his hopes for a new era of bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
Tensions were rising as Republicans prepared to mount a filibuster over what they see as a rushed and misguided process. With Biden preparing to hit the road to rally support for his big infrastructure ideas — including some $3.5 trillion in a follow-up bill — restless Democrats say it’s time to at least start debate on this first phase of his proposals. “It is not a fish or cut bait moment,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday, describing the procedural vote as just a first step to ”get the ball rolling” as bipartisan talks progress. White House aides and the bipartisan group of senators have huddled privately since Sunday trying to wrap up the deal, which would be a first phase of an eventual $4 trillion-plus package of domestic outlays — not just for roads and bridges, but foundations of everyday life including child care, family tax breaks, education and an expansion of Medicare for seniors.
Biden calls it a “blue-collar blueprint for building an American economy back.” He asserted Tuesday that Americans are overwhelmingly in support of his plan and “that’s the part that a lot of our friends on the other team kind of miss.” The other team begs to differ.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and some outside groups decry what they call Biden’s “spending spree,” and McConnell has said big spending is “the last thing American families need.” A core group of Republicans are interested in pursuing a more modest package of traditional highway and public works projects, about $600 billion in new funds, and say they just need more time to negotiate with their Democratic colleagues and the White House. Senators from the bipartisan group emerged upbeat Tuesday from another late-night negotiating session with Biden aides at the Capitol, saying a deal was within reach and even a failed vote Wednesday would not be the end of the road.
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said the test vote Wednesday could be useful in helping to “advance and expedite” the process. “We are so close,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. Biden has been in touch with both Democrats and Republicans for several days, and his outreach will continue “until he has both pieces of legislation on his desk to sign them into law,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
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