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Biden seeks to ease tensions with Democrats on spending, infrastructure bills

Lawmakers are trying to pass government funding legislation to avert a shutdown, an infrastructure bill, and disaster aid, to name a few.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers met Wednesday to iron out disagreements and finish a lengthy to-do list of major pieces of spending legislation in less than a week.

Biden hosted multiple in-person meetings at the White House with groups representing different wings of the Democratic caucus from both the House and the Senate to build consensus around his infrastructure and social spending packages.

Some of the meetings, which began Wednesday afternoon, include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“We made some good progress," Schumer told reporters after the meeting with Biden and Pelosi.

"We’re working hard and we’re moving along," he said.

Separately, Pelosi told reporters that the reconciliation bill is still on schedule after promising centrist lawmakers that it will come up for a vote in the House by Monday.

"We're calm, and everybody's good, and our work's almost done," Pelosi said.

The meetings are an effort to break the stalemate among House Democrats, which threatens to derail Biden’s domestic agenda. Progressive lawmakers have said they won’t back the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a top priority for the Democratic leadership, unless the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package passes first.

Jayapal has promised that dozens of Democrats will defect and vote the infrastructure bill down if the larger spending bill hasn't passed the Senate first.

Moderate Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida said a vote Monday on the infrastructure measure is still expected after a meeting with Biden and other moderate lawmakers.

"I didn't hear anything that indicated otherwise," Murphy said on a call with reporters.

"I won't speak for the president, but I will say that I think there is a common sense that we want to be able to pass an infrastructure bill, as well as a reconciliation," she said.

On Wednesday, 11 Democratic senators came out in support of the House Progressive Caucus' plan: Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Alex Padilla, D-Calif.; Sanders; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

"My hope is that that vote will be delayed. If it's not, it should be defeated, because both bills have got to go forward," Sanders told reporters after his meeting with Biden.

"This is a slow and tortuous process," Sanders said. "But at the end of the day we're going to work it out."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier Wednesday that Biden was looking forward to the meetings.

"At this point, I will tell you this is probably not going to be his last engagement with a single member of Congress in these important days forward," Psaki said.

Separately, the House passed legislation Tuesday night that would fund the government through Dec. 3 and extend the debt limit until after the 2022 elections.

The party-line vote was 220-211, with no Republicans joining the Democrats in supporting the bill.

The broad GOP opposition foreshadows trouble in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans are needed to defeat a filibuster. House Republican leaders pressured their members to oppose the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also vowed that Republicans won't supply the votes to extend the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it on a partisan basis.

Garrett Haake, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Sahil Kapur, Frank Thorp V and Shannon Pettypiece contributed.