President Joe Biden pledged at the Capitol to “get it done” as Democrats strained to rescue a scaled-back version of his 3.5 trillion US dollar government-overhaul plan and salvage a related public works bill after days of frantic negotiations resulted in no deal.
Mr Biden huddled with House Democrats in a private meeting that was part instructional, part morale booster for the tattered caucus of politicians, telling them he wanted both bills passed regardless of the time it takes.
He discussed a compromise topline of 1.9 trillion to 2.3 trillion US dollars, according to a person in the room, granted anonymity to discuss the talks.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks — we’re going to get it done,” Mr Biden told reporters as he left the basement meeting at the Capitol.
Action has ground to a halt in Congress despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s insistence there would be a “vote today” on a one trillion US dollar infrastructure bill that is popular but has become snared in the debate over Mr Biden’s broader measure.
Holdout Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had sunk hopes for a swift compromise, despite hours of shuttle diplomacy late on Thursday with White House aides on Capitol Hill, when he refused to budge on his demands for a smaller overall package, around 1.5 trillion US dollars.
That is too meagre for progressive politicians who are refusing to vote on the public works measure without a commitment to Mr Biden’s broader framework on the bigger bill.
Talks swirled over a compromise in the two trillion US dollar range.
But with Mr Manchin dug in, a quick deal seemed increasingly out of reach for the present.
Still, Mr Biden’s visit was welcomed by Democrats who have complained about not hearing enough from the president about a path forward.
“It’s his time to stand up,” said Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota.
His public approval rating has dropped, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre.
The White House said the president also plans to travel next week to other cities to make his case that his historic measures would help the American people.
The president and his party are facing a potentially embarrassing setback, and perhaps a politically devastating collapse of the whole enterprise, if they cannot resolve the standoff.
Mr Biden’s bigger proposal is a years-in-the-making collection of Democratic priorities, a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax and spending policies that would essentially raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and plough that money back into government health care, education and other programs, touching the lives of countless Americans.
Mr Biden says the ultimate price tag is zero, because the tax revenue would cover the spending costs, higher rates on businesses earning more than five million US dollars a year, and individuals earning more than 400,000 US dollars a year, or 450,000 US dollars for couples.