The president on Wednesday met in the Oval Office with top Republicans Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to discuss if they can work together on Mr Biden’s wish to invest heavily in rebuilding and renewing the nation’s fading infrastructure.
After the meeting, Mr McCarthy, the GOP leader in the House of Representatives, said Republicans were willing to work with the president, but would not support any tax increases to pay for the programmes.
“You won’t find any Republicans who are gonna go raise taxes. I think that’s the worst thing you can do in this economy,” said Mr McCarthy, who earlier in the day had overseen the removal of Liz Cheney from her position as the third-ranking Republican in the lower chamber. She was forced out after refusing to accept Donald Trump’s false claim the 2020 election was rigged, and voted to impeach him.
Mr Biden had campaigned for the presidency with a vow to work with Republicans to pass bills to address the nation’s most pressing needs.
Yet, after the meeting he said that while he would rather work with Republicans, he was also prepared to go it alone if he needed to.
“I want to make it clear. I want to get a bipartisan deal on as much as we get a bipartisan deal on. And that means roads, bridges, broadband and all infrastructure,” he said in an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
“But I’m not giving up on the fact that we have two million women not able to go back to work because all the day care centres are closed, they’re out of business. And so they can’t go back to work.”
He added: “I’m not going to give up on a whole range of things that go to the question of productivity, of increasing jobs, of increasing employment, increasing revenues.”
The meeting at the Oval Office, also attended by vice president Kamala Harris, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, was the first formal conversation with the opposition party since the president took office.
At stake are the future of two huge bills the president is determined to pass and sign into law – a $2.25 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.8 trillion education and childcare plan. Earlier this year, shortly after taking office, he oversaw the passage a $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan that passed, without Republican support, in March.
In order to pay for the measures, Mr Biden and other Democrats have suggested rolling back the huge 2017 Republican reforms that cut taxes for companies and the wealthy.
On Wednesday, Mr McConnell said Republicans would not go for such a move.
“We both made that clear to the president: that’s our red line,” Mr McConnell said.
At this stage, the words and drama may represent little more than shadow boxing. Polls show there is broad public support for infrastructure spending, and it is an area Republicans are keen to be seen to be delivering on too.
What they do not support is spending another $2 trillion at a time when some are questioning whether the country needs such a boost.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, said on Tuesday the Biden administration was “not going to wait a long time if we don’t see that agreement is possible.”
Yet the president does not have a huge amount of room to manoeuvre; while Democrats hold both chambers of Congress, their margin in the Senate could not be be more narrow. Pointedly, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a rare Democratic elected politician in a heavily red state, has made clear he does not want to rush through such a bill.
“For the sake of our country, we have to show we can work in a bipartisan way,” he said this week. “I don’t know what the rush is.”
Asked in the Oval Office on Wednesday how he expected to come to a compromise, Mr Biden joked that he would just “snap my fingers”.
Later White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Mr Biden did not seek to raise taxes on working Americans.
“His bottom line is that inaction is unacceptable, and that he is not going to raise taxes on the American people who are making less than $400,000 a year, but he’s open to a range of proposals,” she told a briefing.
Mr Biden has said he wants to raise the US corporate tax rate to between 25 per cent and 28 per cent from 21 per cent, to help pay for the infrastructure.
Some Republicans have suggested putting the traditional infrastructure elements – roads, ports and bridges – into a smaller bill that could be passed more easily with bipartisan support.
But Mr Biden has said he wants to expand the idea of what constitutes “infrastructure”, and adopt a more holistic vision that is suitable to the 21st Century. This includes access to high speed internet, clean drinking water and sewage, that his party has described as the part of the “care infrastructure.”
Additional reporting by Reuters