US President Joe Biden speaks about the bipartisan infrastructure bill and his Build Back Better agenda at the International Union of Operating Engineers Training Facility in Howell, Michigan, on October 5, 2021.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden sought to refocus public attention on how his domestic agenda will improve average Americans’ lives Tuesday in Michigan, as an intra party fight among Democrats back in Washington threatened to drown out the message Biden has spent months hammering home.
“Look, I know there’s a lot of noise in Washington, there always is,” said Biden, “but it seems to me there’s a little more than usual…I’m here today to try to set some things straight if I can.”
“These bills are not about left versus right, or moderate versus progressive, or anything that pits Americans against one another,” Biden said, referring to his dual-track infrastructure upgrade bill and his social safety net expansion bill.
“These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency. They’re about opportunity versus decay. They’re about leading the world, or continue to let the world pass us by, which is literally happening,” he said.
Biden spoke at a union training center in the small city of Howell, Michigan, situated in a conservative county that former President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2020’s presidential election.
Biden traveled to Howell in large part to try to reclaim the core narrative of his first term agenda, his plan to help the United States emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and “build back better” than before.
That bigger story has been drowned out in recent weeks by an ongoing battle between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party, each of which insists on having the final say about what should and should not be included in Biden’s final bills.
Progressives have said they will not vote for the infrastructure bill, which has already passed the Senate, unless the companion social safety net bill has also been been passed through a process known as budget reconciliation.
But fundamental parts of that bill are still being debated among Democrats, chiefly, the top line price tag. Moderate Democrats have demanded the bill not spend more than $1.5 trillion over a decade, while progressives have pushed for a number closer to $3.5 trillion.
Republicans, meanwhile, have relished watching Democrats attack one another, and argued that both bills, especially the safety net bill, will massively increase the federal deficit.
Democrats have promised that tax hikes on the very richest Americans and large corporations will pay for the new social benefits, and that individuals making less than $400,000 a year will not pay a penny to fund these expanded benefits.
But whether that is true will depend on what’s in the final legislative language, which has yet to be decided on.
Instead of focusing on the cost of the bills, however, Biden and the White House want people to focus on the individual elements of the bills, each of which tends to be popular with voters on its own.
They include new subsidies to help families pay for child care, expanded paid family leave and the addition of dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare. The bill also pays for free universal pre-K, two years of free universal community college and an extension of the current, expanded child tax credit.
“Public support is right around 80 percent for most of these initiatives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last Monday. “This is what the American people want. Roads, rails, bridges — they are not Republican or Democratic. They are improvements the American people want.”
Within the Democratic party, however, things are not as copacetic.
Biden effectively cleared his schedule all last week so that he could help his party leaders negotiate a deal to pass both bills, to no avail.
Already this week, the president has held calls with House progressives and House moderates, but there has been little progress. Democrats face several key deadlines in the coming weeks, any one of which could be the final shove that breaks the logjam within the party.
But while the messy process of legislating and negotiating is still clearly on the president’s mind, Biden did his best to ignore it on Tuesday in Michigan.
“The bottom line is this, when we give working families a break, we’re not just raising their quality of life,” he said. “We’re putting parents in a position to earn a paycheck. We’re also positioning our country to compete in the world. That’s what these bills are all about.”