WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to rally Senate Democrats around his two-part plan to finance a major expansion of the social safety net and invest in the nation's outdated infrastructure.
"It’s great to be home, it’s great to be back with all my colleagues, and I think we’re going to get a lot done," Biden told reporters as he was leaving a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats.
The president's visit to the Capitol followed a major advancement in negotiations, with Senate Democratic leaders agreeing on a $3.5 trillion spending package Tuesday night. Biden hopes to pass the Democratic plan via budget reconciliation in tandem with the nearly $580 billion bipartisan infrastructure agreement.
The two proposals together make up Biden's "American Jobs Plan" and "American Families Plan" that he unveiled earlier this year. The president has broadly referred to these agenda items as his "infrastructure" proposals.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that Biden's decision to go to the Capitol on Wednesday was a sign that not all 50 Senate Democrats were yet onboard.
"If there were enough votes for each of these priorities, there would be a vote and it would have happened," she said, adding that Biden would continue discussions with lawmakers in the coming days and was open to some changes being made to the $3.5 trillion proposal.
Senate Democratic leaders hope to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the party-line bill this month before Congress leaves for the August recess, but they face significant challenges ahead.
The $3.5 trillion Democratic agreement is much smaller than what some progressives had been calling for, but much larger than what some moderates had said they were comfortable with. In the evenly divided chamber, the party cannot afford to lose a single Democratic vote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that the Democratic plan "doesn't provide all the funding that I would like to do right now, but given the fact that we have 50 members, and that compromises have got to be made, I think this is very, very significant."
The Democrats' $3.5 trillion plan has yet to be written into legislation, and the details of the proposal remain unclear.
After the meeting with Biden, Sanders said that the president had endorsed the idea of expanding Medicare, including with a lower eligibility age and new benefits like dental and hearing aids. Sanders said the measure would also include some immigration provisions and the union-friendly PRO Act.
A senior Democratic aide also said that the Democratic plan would be offset by health care savings — including on prescription drug costs — as well as new tax revenues and "long-term economic growth."
The measure will include energy investments along with new methane reduction and polluter import fees, the aide said, and bar tax hikes on families making under $400,000, small business and family farms.
Biden told reporters that there might be some "slight" changes to the Democrats' plan, particularly when it comes to how to pay for it, but that he felt the agreement was "in good shape."
After Biden's visit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed the Senate Democrats' budget resolution proposal, telling colleagues in a letter that it would be "a victory for the American people, making historic, once-in-a-generation progress for families across the nation." She added that it includes "many of House Democrats’ top priorities" — a significant step to bringing the two chambers into alignment.
Some Republicans have grown wary of the bipartisan agreement, and it is unclear if the deal will ultimately get support from 10 Republicans needed to prevent a filibuster.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told NBC News that Democrats' announcement that they'll proceed with a $3.5 trillion measure could "put downward pressure on Republican votes" for the separate bipartisan deal.
"I don't think it helps. We have members who truly do want to get an infrastructure bill," he said. "And I want to look at the entirety of the infrastructure bill on its own. But it's awfully hard, when they continue to link them publicly, not to view it through that lens. And I think that complicates passage of the infrastructure bill for a lot of Republicans."
When asked whether the White House was concerned about this dynamic, Psaki said that voting for one measure does not mean that you support another.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the meeting with Biden that Democrats were "on track" to pass both the bipartisan and reconciliation bills.
"There are little bumps in the road on the bipartisan deal, but hopefully we can overcome them," he said. "We have to have total agreement on both before we move either."
Democrats want to pass the larger bill using the arcane budget reconciliation process that only requires 50 votes. This means they could pass it without any GOP support if every Democrat is on board.
As Senate Democrats announced their massive deal at the Capitol on Tuesday night, the separate bipartisan group of 22 senators were down the hall working on the remaining issues for their agreement. They aimed to finalize the bill text soon so that the Congressional Budget Office could conduct a cost analysis.