Biden visits Congress to rally his agenda

David Morgan, Susan Cornwell and Jeff MasonReuters
President Joe Biden acknowledged to Democrats his massive bills don't yet have the votes.
Camera IconPresident Joe Biden acknowledged to Democrats his massive bills don't yet have the votes. Credit: AP

In a rare visit to the US Capitol, President Joe Biden has tried to end a fight between the moderate and progressive wings of his Democratic Party that threatened to torpedo his domestic agenda.

Faced with a moderate faction that wanted an immediate vote on a $US1 trillion ($A1.4 trillion) infrastructure bill and progressives who wanted to wait until there was agreement on a sweeping $US3.5 trillion bill to bolster social spending and fight climate change, Biden sought to split the difference.

He told his caucus during a meeting on Friday they could delay a vote on the smaller bill and sharply scale back the larger one to about $US2 trillion. But his message that there was no rush belied the fact that Congress faces multiple approaching critical deadlines.

"It doesn't matter whether it's in six minutes, six days or in six weeks. We're going to get it done," Biden said.

The delay comes at a bad time for Congress, which has a lot of work ahead in the next few weeks.

The Treasury Department estimates it has until about October 18 for the government's $US28.4 trillion borrowing limit to be raised by Congress or risk a debt default with potentially catastrophic economic consequences. Then on December 3, the nation faces the risk of a government shutdown that could be politically damaging for Democrats.

House Democrats confirmed late on Friday there would be no vote on the infrastructure bill that day.

The most vocal opponents to the proposed $US3.5 trillion size of the social and climate bill are moderate Senate Republicans Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, either of whom has the ability to prevent a bill passing.

With the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, Democrats hold the majority by virtue of Vice-President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking votes. They aim to pass the larger bill without Republican support using a manoeuvre called "budgetary reconciliation".

House progressives acknowledged after the meeting with Biden that the $US3.5 trillion number would need to be scaled back, though Biden agreed to their demand of passing the two bills in lockstep. Progressives fear passing the smaller bill first would doom the larger one's chances.

House Republicans are unlikely to help pass the infrastructure bill, eager to deny Biden a policy victory before the midterm elections in November 2022.

Even as they wrangle over Biden's agenda, Democrats face the fast-approaching debt ceiling deadline.

Republicans want no part of the debt limit increase, saying it is Democrats' problem since they control Congress and the White House. Democrats note about $US5 trillion of the nation's debt is from tax cuts and spending passed during Republican Donald Trump's presidency.

The House approved a bill this week suspending the debt limit through December 2022. The Senate could vote on it as early as next week but Republicans are expected to block it as they have twice before.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails