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Biden makes case for massive spending bill's policy, not price tag, in Michigan

The president headed outside Washington to tout help for the middle class as Democrats continue to disagree over the size of the social spending measure.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden used a trip to Michigan on Tuesday as the backdrop to try to build support for the social spending and infrastructure bills that have stalled in Congress amid infighting in his party.

"I want to set one thing straight: These bills are not about left versus right, or moderate versus progressive," Biden said, speaking a union training center in Howell. "These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency. They're about opportunity versus decay."

"To oppose these investments is to create a rising America," he continued. "To oppose these investments is to be complicit in America's decline."

As moderate and progressive Democrats negotiate the size and scope of the social spending package, White House officials had hoped that traveling outside of Washington would focus public attention on the popular components of the bills — such as free community college and lowering child care costs — and away from the insider debate over the price tag that has consumed lawmakers for weeks.

"The only thing we've been missing is the will from Washington to finally build an economy around you," Biden said, arguing that his proposals would not add to the national debt and would "cut taxes for working people."

But focusing on specific policy items could come with its own risks as negotiations are in flux and little is known about what will be included in the final deal and just how expansive the package will actually be.

While Biden has acknowledged that the final bill will be significantly smaller than the $3.5 trillion progressives had hoped for, the White House has been reluctant to say what programs or spending it plans to cut from the president's original list of policy proposals in order to match a smaller price tag.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the president’s only "red lines" were that he "will not raise taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year and that he wants to give the middle class in this country some breathing room."

Biden was joined Tuesday by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a moderate Democrat who represents the Howell, Mich., region, and the two were expected to have a chance to discuss the ongoing negotiations. Howell is a historically conservative county that then-President Donald Trump won by 23 percentage points in 2020.

A source close to Slotkin said she planned to tell Biden that the Democratic reconciliation bill needed to be "transformational and targeted" for her to vote for it.

Before leaving Washington on Tuesday morning, Biden met with a group of moderate Democrats to continue discussions on the two bills. Reps. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher, both of Texas; and Lauren Underwood of Illinois participated in the meeting.