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Biden unveils a smaller spending framework. But not all Democrats are onboard

President Joe Biden promotes his "Build Back Better" agenda, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kearny, N.J.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden promotes his "Build Back Better" agenda, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kearny, N.J.

Updated October 28, 2021 at 1:57 PM ET

House Democrats are racing to resolve an internal battle over the process for passing trillions of dollars in spending after a personal plea from President Biden for members of his party to unite behind a $1.75 trillion social spending bill and a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Biden traveled to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with House Democrats in hopes of persuading members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to drop a blockade of the infrastructure bill. Democratic leaders are calling on the left wing of their party to accept the social spending framework as a pledge that their priorities will pass.

After the meeting, Biden returned to the White House to publicly outline the deal.

"After months of tough and thoughtful negotiations, I think we have, I know we have, a historic economic framework," he said.

He publicly repeated some of the themes shared earlier in the day with Democrats — that no one got everything they wanted, but that is how compromises work. He framed the bill not as a fight between moderates and progressives, but a question of competitiveness versus complacency.

Biden also made a direct appeal to congressional Democrats to approve the plan, arguing it's what he ran on last November.

"The agenda that's in these bills is what 81 million Americans voted for," he said. "Their voices deserve to be heard, not denied, or worse ignored."

Biden's framework also got a statement of support from former President Barack Obama. "In a country as large and diverse as ours, progress can often feel frustrating and slow, with small victories accompanied by frequent setbacks. But once in a while, it's still possible to take a giant leap forward," Obama wrote. "That's what the framework announced today represents."

But the process for actually turning the framework into law is not complete. Some senators said they believed there was still room to negotiate on details of the package, which indicates they are not close to a final bill.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said Biden's visit did not shift her members, who insist that they will not vote for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August until the agreement becomes a bill.

"We enthusiastically endorse the framework that the president laid out today," Jayapal told reporters after a lengthy caucus meeting. "There are too many no votes for the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] to pass."

Biden at the Capitol

In his remarks to House Democrats Thursday morning, Biden made an urgent case for a vote later in the day on the bipartisan bill, telling them that in order to succeed, they needed to succeed today, according to a source familiar with the gathering.

Biden explicitly told Democrats that he needs their help and their votes, the source said.

It's not clear that two key Senate holdouts are on board. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., issued a statement that praised the framework but stopped short of saying she would vote for it.

"After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package. I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday families get ahead," Sinema said.

The other holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said only that "this is all in the hands of the House right now."

But progressives like Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., say members are reluctant to trust Manchin and Sinema.

"I think everyone is very clear that the biggest problem we have here is Manchin and Sinema," Gallego said. "They don't trust them, we need to hear from them that they're actually in agreement with the president's framework."

A slimmed-down framework

Senior Biden administration officials believe the policies in the framework can become a bill that passes both the House and the Senate, despite the decision to cut the original $3.5 trillion spending goal in half.

The $1.75 trillion social spending framework, which senior administration officials described as "transformative," would make investments in children and families, boost efforts to combat climate change, provide affordable health care, and help middle-class families.

It includes major priorities for Democrats, including universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, an additional year of the expanded monthly child tax credit payment, invests in affordable housing, premium reductions under the Affordable Care Act and significant investments to address climate change. The bill would also create a nationwide green jobs program known as the Civilian Conservation Corps.

It also includes a separate $100 billion for reforms to reduce backlogs in the immigration asylum process, provided the parliamentarian rules it is doable under reconciliation rules.

The legislation would be paid for with a series of taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Notably absent from the framework are major party priorities, like paid family leave, free community college and measures to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Many Democrats have blamed Manchin for the failure to reach a deal on paid family leave and free community college.

The framework comes at a critical moment for Biden, who is set to leave Washington on Thursday afternoon for a series of meetings in Europe with global leaders on climate change and the world economy. Senior congressional Democrats say they believe Biden wants at least one of the bills passed ahead of those talks.

Biden added the framework would be fully paid for, including through a 15% minimum corporate tax for corporations that report profits of more than $1 billion to shareholders and a surtax on the top .02% wealthiest Americans of 5% on income over $10 million, and an additional 3% on income over $25 million.

Addressing those in the upper income brackets who would have be hit by higher taxes to pay for his plan, Biden said "All I'm asking is pay your fair share. Pay your fair share. Pay your fair share."

Biden added that "For much too long the working people of this nation, and the middle class of this country have been dealt out of the American deal. It's time to deal them back in."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.