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Biden Met With Democratic Senators, Who Just Reached $3.5 Trillion Budget Agreement


President Joe Biden was back on his old Capitol Hill stomping grounds today, pitching Senate Democrats on his infrastructure proposals.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Great to be back with all my colleagues, and I think we're going to get a lot done.

CORNISH: Now, this comes on the heels of a key announcement from Senate Budget Committee Democrats and the committee's chairman, Bernie Sanders, that they struck a deal on a budget framework to the tune of $3.5 trillion. Now, that budget is designed to be the legislative vehicle for the part of Biden's economic agenda that would have to pass with Democratic votes alone. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to talk more.

First, what is in the budget framework?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It includes a lot of longtime Democratic priorities, from universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds to a clean energy standard and electric vehicle tax incentives. It adds dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare. In essence, it would reshape the U.S. economy, both with respect to energy and things like child care. But at this point, it is very much a rough outline. There are no details. A senior Democratic aide shared with reporters what amounts to a list of bullet points - like, single-word bullet points at some places - about what they've agreed to. And the specifics are yet to be worked out. This matters, though, as you said, because budget resolutions are one piece of legislation that can't be filibustered, and so this would be the vehicle Democrats would use to pass the American Families Plan, which the White House has described as part two of President Biden's infrastructure proposal. So this could pass the narrowly divided Senate with Democratic votes alone, but every single Democrat would have to support it.

CORNISH: So does every single Senate Democrat support it?

KEITH: No, not yet. I asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki today if we should interpret President Biden's trip up to the Capitol as a sign that the support isn't there yet, and she essentially confirmed it.


JEN PSAKI: As you all know, if there were enough votes for each of these priorities, there would be a vote, and it would've happened.

KEITH: She went on to say that the president's job is to make the proposals and then do the hard work of selling them, both to members of Congress and the public. And that work is clearly ongoing. Coming out of the lunch with President Biden, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said that he's worried about inflation and also maintaining U.S. energy independence, which likely means he has concerns with the climate portions of this framework. He wasn't involved in negotiating this framework, but other moderate Democrats were. And it does represent something of a compromise because Senator Bernie Sanders had wanted it to be $6 trillion, and now they're talking about $3.5 trillion, which is still a lot of money.

CORNISH: How does this fit in with that bipartisan infrastructure agreement we were hearing about?

KEITH: Yeah, this is a very complicated dance, but President Biden and Democrats are trying to move both of them in tandem. And, in fact, today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said again that they won't do one without the other. Neither of these at this point have all of the details filled in. They aren't in the form of legislation yet, so there is much to still be worked out. And it's an open question whether the bipartisan deal could get the 60 votes it needs - it has things like roads and removing lead pipes - or whether the Democrats-only economic and climate plan could get the 50 Democratic votes it would need.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith.

Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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