What to Know in Washington: Biden Open to Options on $4T Agenda

President Joe Biden’s $4 trillion vision of remaking the federal government’s role in the U.S. economy is now in the hands of Congress, where both parties see a higher chance of at least some compromise than for the administration’s pandemic-relief bill.

The president at this point is open to various possibilities to pass his proposals, including breaking them into multiple bills, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity. While the “American Families Plan” that twins social spending with individual tax hikes is a non-starter for Republicans, parts of the infrastructure-focused “American Jobs Plan” have been embraced by the GOP.

Biden’s planning to host top congressional leaders from each party at the White House on May 12, something he didn’t do for the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that passed with no Republican support. Whether a bipartisan deal can be done on a portion of his plans may hinge on whether the GOP abandons the comprehensive obstructionist model it used against President Barack Obama.

Any bipartisan deal would likely be limited to spending items, with Republicans widely panning the tax increases the White House has pushed for companies and wealthy Americans. GOP members haven’t proposed any specific funding measures.

Meantime, Biden’s pressing ahead with a direct public appeal for his sweeping plans, featuring stops this week in Virginia and Louisiana after recent trips to Georgia and Pennsylvania. Read more from Nancy Cook, Laura Davison and Erik Wasson.

Today’s Agenda: Biden will make stops in Virginia today in an effort to sell his economic package. The president and First Lady Jill Biden will visit an elementary school in Yorktown at 10:30 a.m. At 1:05 p.m., the pair will visit an HVAC workshop and then deliver remarks at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk.

More on Biden’s Economic Agenda

Biden Quietly Preparing for Food Stamp Increase: The White House is quietly laying the groundwork for a long-term increase in food aid for tens of millions of Americans, without going through the ordeal of a long fight with congressional Republicans. The instrument is an obscure Agriculture Department shopping list used to determine food stamp benefits, known as the market basket. A review of the “Thrifty Food Plan” ordered days after Biden took office could trigger an increase in benefits as soon as Oct. 1. Mike Dorning has more.

Yellen Doesn’t See Inflation Problem in Plan: Biden’s economic agenda is unlikely to create inflation pressure in the U.S. because the boost to demand will be spread out over eight to 10 years, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday. “If it becomes an issue, we have tools to address it,” Yellen said. She also said the country has the “fiscal space” to make economic investments, with interest rates low and poised to remain so, but in the long run, deficits need to be “contained.” Miles Weiss and Susan Decker have more.

Weighing the Wealth Gap: Biden’s promise to start narrowing income and wealth gaps underpins every part of his economic program, from almost $4 trillion in spending plans to the biggest tax increase in a generation. But even these measures may struggle to make headway against the highest levels of inequality in the developed world. The U.S. wealth divide widened further during the pandemic, as the top 1% of households added $4 trillion in net worth. Read more from Katia Dmitrieva.

Politics & Influence

Arizona GOP Continue Recount in ‘Fealty’ to Trump: Arizona Republicans still distraught that voters rejected both Donald Trump and their incumbent U.S. senator are hyper-scrutinizing millions of ballots, looking for anything other than the candidates themselves to account for their top-of-the-ticket defeats. Six months after a presidential election that saw Biden become the first Democrat in a quarter century to capture Arizona, an unconventional audit and recount of 2.1 million ballots continues in the state’s most populous county, funded by taxpayers and undisclosed amounts of private money and ordered by Republican lawmakers giving credence to Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

GOP leaders are promising that the audit, which can’t legally overturn the results, will help restore confidence in an election system that already included multiple accuracy checks and certification by the secretary of state. Read more from Brenna Goth.

Latino Surge Helped Biden in Key States: Nearly a third more Hispanic voters participated in the 2020 presidential election as they did in 2016, handing a boost to Biden that swamped the small inroads that Republicans made in the share of the Hispanic vote. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show Hispanic voters made up 10.6% of the nationwide electorate in 2020, an increase of 1.4 percentage points and rivaling Black voters who made up about 13%. And non-Hispanic White voters comprised 71% of all voters, down from 73.3% in 2016. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Collins Says D.C. Should Be Part of Maryland: The District of Columbia should become part of Maryland rather than a new state if it wants to ensure Congressional representation for its residents, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said. She weighed in yesterday on the issue of statehood after the House passed a bill last month to make D.C. the 51st state. “Washington D.C. is a city, it’s not a state,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Now, there is a way to ensure that the residents of D.C. have voting representation in Congress, and that is for D.C. to become part of Maryland, just as parts of D.C. became parts of Virginia many years ago.” Read more from Yueqi Yang.

ESG Drive Fuels Lobbying Bonanza: Environmental, social, and governance lobbying has more than doubled in the past year, as newly-in-charge Democrats push for companies to be more transparent and accountable on issues such as climate change, diversity efforts, and political activities. More than 40 companies, trade associations and advocacy groups have lobbied federal officials on ESG matters so far in 2021, compared to only about 20 in the first quarter of 2020, according to a Bloomberg Law review of public reports. BlackRock, PepsiCo, and ConocoPhillips were among the companies that disclosed ESG lobbying efforts for the first time as Biden took office. Read more form Andrew Ramonas.

Stone Denies Taking Money for Trump Pardon: Republican operative Roger Stone denied asking a political ally of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) for $250,000 in exchange for trying to secure a pardon in a child sex-trafficking and identity-theft case. The Daily Beast reported last Thursday that Stone offered to help Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector who’s expected to plead guilty later this month, get a pardon from Trump before he left office. The pardon was never granted. Read more from Erik Larson.

Around the Administration

Blinken Aims to Boost Ukraine, Pressure China: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will defend the “rules-based” global order as he prepares for meetings in the U.K. and Ukraine, part of an effort to keep U.S. allies united against China and show support for a crucial ally in the face of Russian aggression. “Our purpose is not to contain China, to hold it back, to keep it down,” Blinken said in a interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week that aired yesterday. “It is to uphold this rules-based order that China is posing a challenge to. Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and defend it.”

Blinken arrived in London last night and has talks there starting today, including with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to lay the groundwork for Biden’s summit with Group of Seven leaders in June. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Pentagon Cancels Trump’s Border Wall Projects: The Pentagon said Friday it had canceled projects related to the Trump administration’s border wall and was returning money that the previous president directed to the project to defense programs. The Department of Defense “is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects” paid by funds initially intended for other military missions, “such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard,” said Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon spokesman, in a statement. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

U.S. Denies Deal With Iran in Talks on Nuclear Accord: Talks on a U.S. return to the nuclear agreement with Iran have a “fair distance” to go, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said yesterday, after Iran said this weekend that there’s agreement on lifting some U.S. sanctions. “The short answer is there’s no deal now,” Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week.” U.S. diplomats “will keep working at that over the coming weeks” to get a mutual return to the nuclear deal within guidance laid out by the president, he said. Read more from Tony Czuczka.

Biden Aide Defends North Korea Policy: The Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea “is not aimed at hostility” but at “achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Sullivan said, hours after North Korea labeled Biden’s recent comment that the country’s nuclear program is a threat as “intolerable.” “We believe that rather than all-for-all or nothing-for-nothing, a more calibrated, practical, measured approach stands the best chance of actually moving the ball down the field” toward reducing North Korea’s nuclear program, Sullivan said on ABC. Read more from Jeong-Ho Lee.

Access to Justice Office Ripe for Revival: A broad coalition of civil rights and liberties groups are pressing the Biden administration to revive a Justice Department unit dedicated to making legal services more available for poorer Americans. Read more from Sam Skolnik.

Biden DOJ Strips Stimulus Watchdog of Power: The leader of an agency overseeing federal stimulus programs said Friday that Treasury Department officials had resisted his attempts to investigate fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program, resulting in the Department of Justice resolving the dispute by stripping the agency of its jurisdiction. Read more from Gregory Korte.

White House to Allow More Aides to Return: Senior U.S. officials told the White House staff on Friday that more aides will be permitted to come back to work in-person over the coming weeks, two people familiar with the matter said. The loosening of pandemic restrictions may proceed because vaccines have been offered to all staffers, one of the people said. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs and Saleha Mohsin.

EPA Continues Pre-Biden Office Moves: The EPA’s various office closures and moves under earlier presidents aren’t slowing down under the Biden administration, distressing union officials who hoped new Administrator Michael Regan would rethink them. The employees say the moves threaten the Environmental Protection Agency’s mission, disrupt workers’ lives, and in at least one case could increase their exposure to the coronavirus. Read more from Stephen Lee.

Mask Mandate Extended for Airplanes, Other Transit: Passengers on airplanes, buses and railroads in the U.S. will have to keep wearing masks to guard against the spread of Covid-19 as federal officials extended a mandate set to expire in days through the busy summer travel season. Read more from Alan Levin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com