Hmmm: Biden delays G20-Vatican trip to announce ... something?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A deal? Another job for Neera Tanden? The eleventy-seventh retelling of Joe Biden’s “I traveled two million miles on Amtrak” lie? Probably none of the above, although the Washington Post certainly seems hopeful about Biden’s suddenly added remarks from the East Room this morning:

Washington, we might have a deal

Is this it?: President Biden will announce this morning a framework on a social spending package that would garner the support of all Democrats, scoop our Tyler Pager and Sean Sullivan this morning.

The announcement comes after weeks of behind-the-scenes bickering among Democrats that tested Biden’s promise to deliver deals in Washington and before the president heads today for Rome and then a crucial climate summit in Glasgow. Details, including the plan’s topline cost — expected to be no more than $2 trillion — were still hazy.

“The White House plans to detail specific policies it expects to pass Congress after weeks of whittling down Biden’s agenda, according to one of the people. Democrats on Capitol Hill were preparing written details of the revamped for proposal for release on Thursday, according to the second person,” our colleagues write.

Actually, Biden doesn’t have a deal at all. He may not even have a framework, although he wants to argue that he does. Biden will lay out his preferred plan for spending $1.75 trillion on social programs in the hope that it will convince progressives to finally pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIF). As CBS notes, it’s make-or-break time:

This is not much more than a Hail Mary by Biden. Progressives are already adamant that they won’t vote for the BIF with only a “framework” for reconciliation, having watched leadership bargain away large parts of their hobby-horse agenda. And Biden won’t even have a complete “framework” anyway, according to CNN, let alone the “details”:

President Joe Biden will lay out long-awaited details of his $1.75 trillion economic and climate package to House Democrats on Thursday when he attends a caucus meeting on Capitol Hill as leaders press progressives to vote for a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

While the proposal isn’t finalized in its entirety, days of negotiations have brought it to a place where the key elements are all locked in and Biden plans to impress upon Democrats the scope and scale of what those elements represent, even in the face of several Democratic priorities being dropped from the bill in the last several days.

The White House was expected to lay out specifics of the plan later Thursday morning, and even many Democrats remained in the dark about the exact contours of the agreement in the hours ahead of its unveiling.

If it’s not finalized in its entirety, then how do we get “details”? Why bother holding a press briefing for something that’s not complete?

Punchbowl News has a much more realistic take on Biden’s play:

Biden’s main message this morning as he heads to HC-5 — the basement room in the Capitol — seems to be this: the Build Back Better negotiations are continuing and a deal is close. But House Democrats should vote for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill now and trust him to deliver on the larger social spending package later.

This is Biden’s second trip to meet with House Democrats on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and he could end up with the same result as last time: leaving empty handed. It’s surprising that a president would take that gamble again. But the reality is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are stuck. Progressives refuse to back the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the slow-moving trillion-dollar Build Back Better Act is finalized. It may take days or weeks to turn that package into text and prepare it for the House floor — and that’s what progressives want to see happen before voting for infrastructure. Pelosi has called for the House Rules Committee to meet today and unveil some text of the still unfinished reconciliation package. This is Pelosi’s bid to show progress. She wants to create momentum — real or imagined — to push this process forward.

But the deadline for voting on the infrastructure bill is Oct. 31. And Biden is Pelosi’s only chance to break the stalemate inside her caucus.

Given all the above, it’s easy to conclude that Washington doesn’t have a deal. And that may well mean that thousands of transportation workers will have to get laid off by this weekend, thanks to the BIF’s inclusion of funding for the Department of Transportation. Unless Congress passes a separate CR for Transportation, the funding will run out on Saturday — which will make the supply chain crisis even worse.

So why is Biden bothering with the briefing this morning? It’s his last card to play before the Transportation deadline. He needs the House to pass the BIF before his administration falls even further into the biffy. A failure on this point will make Democrats look even more incapable of governing and contribute to the confidence-crisis cascade that plagues Biden. He’s certainly earned it, but his fellow Democrats seem almost compelled to join him in the plunge.