HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — Calling opponents of his plans "complicit in America's decline," President Joe Biden made the case Tuesday for his ambitious building and social spending proposals by framing them as key to America's global competitiveness and future success.
With his plans in jeopardy on Capitol Hill, Biden visited a union training center in Michigan, declaring he wanted to "set some things straight" about his agenda and cut through what he dismissed as "noise" in Washington.
"America's still the largest economy in the world, we still have the most productive workers and the most innovative minds in the world, but we're at risk of losing our edge as a nation," he said.
Biden went on to spell out his plans in greater detail than he has in some time, after spending the past week deep in the details of negotiations on Capitol Hill.
He highlighted popular individual parts of the plan, including funding for early childhood education and investments to combat climate change, rather than the expensive topline. And he emphasized the trillions in spending would be drawn out over a decade and paid for by tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Polling suggests elements in the bill such as expanded child care opportunities and infrastructure projects are popular with large parts of the public. But even some of the White House's closest allies have worried the West Wing has not done enough to sell the spending. That brought Biden back on the road Tuesday, hitting the red-leaning district of Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin to sell his policies.
"These bills are not about left versus right or moderate vs progressive," Biden said. "These bills are about competitiveness versus complacency."
Back in Washington, negotiations continue on a pair of bills to boost spending on safety net, health and environmental programs and infrastructure projects.
While there is cautious optimism about recent progress, no deal has been struck to bridge stark divides between moderates and progressives in the Democratic Party on the size and scope of the social spending package.
In recent weeks, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked unsuccessfully to secure passage of the bills, Biden stayed in Washington to cajole lawmakers and work phones.
Now, he's trying to put the public focus on popular components of the bills rather than the inside-the-Beltway debate about their price tag.
While progressives and moderates grapple over the contours and the topline number for the $3.5 trillion social spending package, Biden has sought to reframe the debate around the eye-popping number. He contends because the spending will be paid for with tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy — those earning beyond $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples — the price tag of the bill is actually "zero."
Speaking briefly to reporters after his remarks Tuesday, Biden acknowledged the overall $3.5 trillion number will decline, but insisted he'll "get it done."
The president was joined by Slotkin during a visit to a union training center in Howell, Michigan, a reflection of the importance of securing moderates' votes.
Biden, she said, understands "that if we're going to make these investments we have to be able to pay for them."
"We talked a lot about the fact that we are not going to take this bill and pass on more debt to our kids, and we are not going to pay for this bill on the back of working families," she said.
Next to Biden, the Democrats with the most on the line over the shape and success of his spending plans are House members from swing districts whose reelections are essential if his party is to retain control of Congress.
Many of those targeted moderates — including Arizona Rep. Tom O'Halleran, Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger and nine other vulnerable Democrats — joined Biden for a virtual meeting Tuesday. He held a similar session the previous day with a dozen progressives.
Democratic legislators have warned that Biden's bold ideas are getting lost in the party's infighting and procedural skirmishes over the legislation.
"We must communicate to the country the transformative nature of the initiatives in the legislation," Pelosi said in a letter to lawmakers ahead of Biden's trip.