WASHINGTON – Now that Congress’ final passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is out of the way, the White House is laying the groundwork to move forward on Biden’s other priorities.
The president will make his first address to the nation Thursday evening, marking one year since the coronavirus pandemic fundamentally changed the day-to-day lives of Americans. It’s an opportunity to mark a somber anniversary but also a chance to promote the signature legislative accomplishment of his nascent presidency.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses will be “hitting the road” to tout the benefits of their plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told House Democrats to highlight the bill in the next few weeks by holding events on the legislation and sending email newsletters and mailers to constituents “to help its benefits be understood and enjoyed.”
The White House is looking ahead to Biden’s initiatives for the next phase of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which include a big infrastructure package the president dubbed “Build Back Better.” Capitol Hill Democrats have other ideas.
Over the past several weeks, Biden has been meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to garner support for the infrastructure plan. But Democrats are poised to move on a flurry of bills differing from the White House’s stated priority. Their bills addressing gun control, women’s rights and immigration could face roadblocks in the Senate.
“Those are the things that we want to be judged by,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., a member of House Democratic leadership, said Tuesday of the bills the House would take up.
Before a meeting last week with a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, Biden said they were going to discuss “what we’re going to do to make sure we once again lead the world across the board in infrastructure.”
“It not only creates jobs, but it makes us a hell of a lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure in the world,” Biden said.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said after the meeting that the president “wants to move as quickly as possible” on infrastructure legislation.
“He wants it to be very big, and he feels that this is the key to the recovery package,” DeFazio said. He did not give details on how the legislation would be paid for but said “we talked about it.”
Biden’s agenda could face headwinds on Capitol Hill even before a bill is unveiled. The Senate’s 50-50 split gives any one senator an enormous amount of influence, and rules requiring at least 60 senators to vote to advance legislation and break a filibuster mean at least 10 Republicans would have to join all Democrats in supporting a bill.
Asked Tuesday how Democrats would move their legislation past the filibuster, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said there were “conversations going on in the House,” but the issue was largely one for the Senate.
Democrats might use a legislative process called budget reconciliation to pass the bill, which would require only a simple majority in the Senate. Doing so places constraints on the legislation and could bring opposition from some lawmakers. The process was used to pass the American Recovery Act this week.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a moderate who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a pivotal vote for much of the Democrats’ agenda, said on “Axios on HBO” he would block Biden’s jobs and infrastructure package unless enough Republicans were included in the process to avoid a filibuster.
“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he said, adding he would not “get on a bill that cuts (Republicans) out completely before we start trying.”
Some Democrats have discussed changing or getting rid of the filibuster to ensure that legislation can be passed without bipartisan support. Biden does not support abolishing the filibuster.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., whose panel would oversee reconciliation, said Tuesday he believed the infrastructure bill might not come until September because Democrats were waiting on the White House to submit a budget and install a budget chief.
“That’s the most realistic timeframe,” he said.
Psaki said Monday that Biden believes there will be a path forward on infrastructure. She noted that no bill is being considered on that yet.
“The American people want their roads, rails and bridges to be reformed,” Psaki said. “(Biden) is having discussions to hear ideas, hear good ideas from members of both parties, and once we have a bill, we are happy to have a discussion on how to have it moving forward.”
What else is on the agenda
Aside from infrastructure, Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing forward on legislation regardless of its potential fate in the Senate.
After passing Biden’s relief plan, the House is set to pass two major pieces of gun control legislation this week – both unlikely to see action in the Senate.
Next week, the House is set to vote on renewing the Violence Against Women Act, which has been stalled since 2018, in addition to several bills that would create a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows people brought to the USA illegally as children to remain. Biden’s comprehensive immigration bill also could be moved on.
The Violence Against Women’s Act, which Biden cosponsored when he was in the Senate, stalled after two provisions were added. One would prohibit individuals who abused current or former dating partners from having firearms, and another would bar individuals who were convicted of felony stalking charges from accessing guns.
The two immigration bills were introduced by Democrats in the last Congress. Both passed the House, only to be blocked by the Senate, when the Republicans had control.
Though Democrats control the Senate now, the bills face an uncertain future.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is spearheading Biden’s comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, told USA TODAY he was concerned about moving forward individual portions of immigration legislation. Some parts of Biden’s agenda, such as changing rules for farmworkers or a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, might be popular among Republicans, he said, but if those parts were passed and enacted separately, “how do you deal with the rest of the question?”
Asked whether immigration might be included in a reconciliation bill, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other liberal Democrats advocated, Menendez said “all options” were on the table.
Contributing: Bart Jansen and Joey Garrison