Biden assumes active role in spending talk negotiations

President Biden is fast approaching the hour of reckoning when his legislative agenda will be either salvaged or blown to smithereens.

That daunting reality is hanging over negotiations on Capitol Hill, where the clock is ticking for Mr. Biden to forge consensus among warring members of his party over his ambitious vision.

“I think there is a healthy skepticism about Washington ever delivering. But I think a lot of people feel like it would certainly help the midterm elections if he were to get a couple more things through,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic Party strategist. 

Mr. Link said, “There is going to be building pressure to show some results.”

Now all eyes are on Mr. Biden.

The 78-year-old president has failed to check off a number of boxes on his to-do list, including legislation on immigration, voting rights and taxes. He has been dealing with sagging approval ratings since the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Trying to turn things around, Mr. Biden is assuming an active role in negotiations over his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and $3.5 trillion social spending package. 

Mr. Biden has been meeting with lawmakers and traveling across the country to try to win the hearts and minds of voters.

The president plans to host talks Tuesday with moderate and liberal Democrats at the White House. He is scheduled to travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday to try to build public support for his plan.

“The president is certainly feeling an urgency to move things forward, to get things done,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at the daily briefing Monday. “I think you have seen that urgency echoed by members on the Hill who agree that time is not an ending here and we are eager to move forward with a unified path to deliver for the American people.”

The lack of action in Washington is generating concerns on the other side of the Potomac River in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are locked in a tight gubernatorial race. 

The contest is billed as a bellwether for the midterm elections next year, when Democrats will defend control of the House and Senate.

Mr. McAuliffe has aired frustration with his party’s inability to fulfill campaign promises since it took control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. Last week, he said it is time for Mr. Biden and congressional lawmakers from both parties “to get their act together.”

Mr. Biden entered office nearly nine months ago vowing to unify the nation, show that the federal government can work and bring back a level of professionalism to the White House that members of both parties said was missing during the Trump administration.

Mr. Biden has been given an incomplete mark on that front. 

As a result, congressional Democrats are growing more concerned that they could enter the midterm election season with few accomplishments to show voters.

Democrats have little wiggle room given their slim majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate that they control only because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

Mr. Biden‘s hopes of pushing through a legislative workaround on immigration were dashed after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that Democrats could not use a process known as budget reconciliation to carve out a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Mr. Biden is likely to face another setback this week when Democrats bring up voting rights legislation in the Senate, which also faces a Republican filibuster that Democrats lack the votes to break.

Asked about the setbacks, Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden knows that as president “the buck stops with you,” but she also pinned blame on Congress — Republicans in particular.

“In order to have fundamental change that is going to make people’s lives better, that is going to fix broken systems, you need Congress to act,” Ms. Psaki said.

Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden has done what he can through executive actions to advance his agenda on immigration, climate change and voting rights.

Mr. Biden’s signature accomplishment to date is the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Democrats overcame Republican opposition in March to approve direct relief payments to most Americans, extend unemployment benefits, expand the child tax credit and set aside billions of dollars more for small-business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program.

The president has been searching for a big legislative win ever since.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, set an Oct. 31 deadline for the House to pass Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal.

The bill passed the Senate this summer with the help of 19 Republicans.

Far-left Democrats in the House are demanding that Congress pass the $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change package through reconciliation before they vote on that transportation bill.

Democrats have yet to land on a top-line spending number that satisfies far-left lawmakers in the House, who want $3.5 trillion, and moderates in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona want to trim the cost.

It is not unusual for a president to enter office with his party controlling all the three levers of government in Washington, nor is it unusual for that dynamic to be fleeting.

Republicans had control of the House and Senate when Donald Trump came into power, just as Democrats did when Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009 and Bill Clinton took the reins in 1993.

The Pew Research Center noted this year that 16 of the 21 presidents dating back to Theodore Roosevelt entered office with their party in total control of Washington.

“Although a single party in charge in Washington is common at the beginning of a new president’s term, there has only been one presidency since 1969 where control has lasted beyond the following midterm election,” according to Pew. “That was during Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s one term in office, when Democrats retained leadership of the House and Senate in both the 95th and the 96th Congress.”

The Pew Research analysis found that single-party control of Congress typically hasn’t yielded an increase in “substantive” legislative activity.

• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters