Biden’s agenda: What can pass, what faces steep odds?

Here’s a look at which of the policy priorities the president set out for Congress are likely to pass and which aren’t.

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President Joe Biden arrives to speak to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Melina Mara / AP pool

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has laid out a long list of policy priorities to Congress — but what’s the likelihood of his proposals being passed?

Here’s a look at what’s possible and what’s unlikely when it comes to action in Congress:


Biden won an early victory in March when he signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law. Democrats passed that over unanimous Republican opposition, using special budget rules to get around a Senate filibuster.

They can’t use that tactic on every piece of legislation, but Democrats might return to the same procedure for Biden’s two signature proposals — his $2.3 trillion infrastructure jobs plan, which would rebuild roads and bridges, boost broadband access and make other improvements, and his $1.8 trillion families plan, which would expand preschool and college opportunities, create a national family and medical leave program, distribute child care subsidies and make other similar investments.

Republicans have proposed a much smaller $568 billion infrastructure package.

Both sides have shown a willingness to negotiate. But their differences are broad — including on how they would pay for the plans and whether to raise taxes. And Democrats are intent on passing a major infrastructure boost this year, with or without Republican support.


Democrats and Republicans have edged a bit closer to bipartisanship on some topics since Biden took office, including police reform, gun control and efforts to reduce violence against women.

All of those bills are still heavy lifts in the evenly divided Senate. But negotiations are underway, and members of both parties have signaled they want legislation passed.

Both parties say they were encouraged by the Senate approval of a bill to combat the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Compromise on the other bills, such as the policing overhaul, won’t come as easily. Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina is negotiating with Democrats to change some of the nation’s policing laws following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year and recently the conviction of the officer who killed him.

A Democratic bill passed by the House would allow police officers to be sued, would ban chokeholds and would create national databases of police misconduct. Scott’s Republican proposal doesn’t go as far but does have some similar provisions.

Democrats have pushed to finish the negotiations by the anniversary of Floyd’s death at the end of May. Scott has not made a similar commitment.

Changes to gun laws — long among the most divisive issues in Congress — could be even more difficult, though there’s widespread public support for some measures.

Democrats hope to expand background checks, especially after mass shootings in recent weeks. Many Republicans would back an expansion of background checks as well but would not go as far as Democratic legislation passed in the House in March.

Bipartisan Senate talks have so far failed to yield a compromise.

Senators in both parties want to find a way to agree on a House-passed bill that aims to reduce domestic and sexual violence against women. But they have disagreed on provisions in the legislation that could keep guns out of the hands of abusers, among other matters.

Biden introduced the original Violence Against Women Act in June 1990. The legislation has since been passed four times.


The list of long-shot bills on Biden’s agenda is much longer.

At the top of that list is Democrats’ wide-ranging effort to overhaul U.S. elections, legislation that would create automatic voter registration nationwide, promote early voting, require more disclosure from political donors and restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, among other changes.

Senate Republicans are unanimously opposed to the measure, which has passed the House, arguing that it’s written to help Democrats win elections.

Democrats’ eagerness to pass the legislation — which Biden said in his speech would “restore the soul of America” by protecting the sacred right to vote — eventually could prompt them to change filibuster rules in the Senate. But the party isn’t united on such a move, and a decision isn’t expected soon.

Immigration is another intractable matter.

The Democratic-led House approved two bills creating a pathway to citizenship for young “Dreamers” in the United States since childhood, immigrants who fled wars or natural disasters, and migrant farm workers.

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have introduced legislation giving “Dreamers” a chance for citizenship.

But Republicans have latched onto the huge numbers of migrants seeking to cross the southwest border as a fertile campaign issue. And many Republicans want tough border security restrictions as their price for cooperation.

Other policy priorities appear stalled — including legislation to enshrine LGBTQ protections under labor and civil rights laws and bills to protect unions and raise the minimum wage.

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