Gov. Pritzker, President Biden huddle in Oval Office before meeting to boost infrastructure bill
Gov. Pritzker at the White House talked with Biden about infrastructure, curbing gun violence in Illinois and dealing with $4.2 billion the feds advanced to the state in the wake of soaring COVID unemployment claims.
WASHINGTON — Gov. J.B. Pritzker was at the White House on Wednesday to bolster President Joe Biden’s drive to rally congressional Democrats’ support for a bipartisan $579 billion infrastructure plan — with its fate linked to a $3.5 trillion measure packed with Democratic policy initiatives no Republicans will support.
“There are no Democratic roads or Republican bridges,” Biden said, invoking an old political saying at the start of the meeting with eight governors and mayors — five Democrats and three Republicans.
But the lure of the federal government sending states billions of dollars for projects — from roads and bridges to broadband — is not enough to guarantee congressional votes, with Democratic and Republican lawmakers presenting Biden with different complex political challenges, especially with the 50-50 Senate.
Both measures — they have not yet been introduced as bills since intense negotiations are ongoing — are consequential.
The $3.5 trillion Democratic package is historic because it contains every Biden domestic policy agenda item and almost everything on the progressive wish list of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Even though Sanders wanted trillions more in spending, he’s an enthusiastic backer of the compromise struck with moderate and progressive Democrats.
The measure would expand Medicare to provide dental, vision and hearing coverage; strong climate provisions, including electric vehicles, clean and renewable power funding; plus child care, education funding and other social safety net programs.
It is so sweeping that if passed and signed into law, Pritzker said, speaking from the White House North Lawn, it will be “legacy making” for Biden, just as the New Deal was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The measures are moving on two politically related tracks at the same time.
The infrastructure bill, expected to get some GOP support, will need 60 Senate votes to pass. The domestic items will end up being a Democratic only bill; a parliamentary loophole will be used to pass it with 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie. But that means all 50 Democrats must stick together. And that’s not certain as I write this.
In 2019, Pritzker, with bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly, signed a $45 billion, job creating “Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan.”
That only scratched the surface of what needs to be done in Illinois. That 2019 plan was to rebuild existing infrastructure.
“Imagine the new roads we can put in as a result of having federal dollars.” With federal money, there can be actual upgrades, said Pritzker — such as “replacing our lead service lines across the state.”
Pritzker’s infrastructure meeting also included Vice President Kamala Harris, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, Biden’s top domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice and economic council chief Brian Deese.
PRITZKER’S PRIVATE OVAL OFFICE MEETING AND STROLL ON THE WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS WITH BIDEN
Pritzker and Biden are close; they’ve known each other for years. Sister Penny Pritzker was a Commerce Secretary in the Obama/Biden administration.
Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times he had a private meeting with Biden in the Oval Office before joining the infrastructure meeting.
The two main items on Pritzker’s agenda in his talk with Biden:
- Dealing with $4.2 billion the federal government advanced to Illinois to keep its Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund afloat after it was drained of cash because of the enormous surge of claims triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. What kind of repayment breaks Biden can provide is not yet clear.
- Flagging how when it comes to the Biden administration helping fight gun violence, in Illinois, it’s more than about Chicago. Chicago, with unrelenting gun violence, is expecting in the coming days extra help - a strike force - from the Biden Justice Department. Pritzker said the Illinois State Police are already working with the ATF, DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s office to stop the flow of guns into Illinois.
“I wanted to double down on his understanding that we have a problem, it’s not just a Chicago problem. It’s a problem in Rockford, it’s a problem in other cities in Illinois. People just focus on Chicago, but it’s really a problem in a number of urban areas,” Pritzker said.
Biden also showed Pritzker around part of the White House grounds and West Wing.
ON THE ROAD: TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG CHICAGO STOPS
Biden Cabinet members are fanning out throughout the U.S. to sell the Biden infrastructure plan. I earlier reported Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg hits Chicago on Friday. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the congressional delegation have been invited to meet up with him. Unless his plans change, he’ll be touring the CTA station at 95th and the Dan Ryan and the CSX freight yard in Bedford Park.