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In The Latest Win For Biden, The Senate Passes A $3.5 Trillion Budget Blueprint

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

The Senate is moving ahead with one of President Biden's top economic priorities. Early this morning, it took the first step in passing a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that could lead to major reforms in social programs. The vote came just hours after the Senate passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure package with bipartisan support. This is all a win for the president who promised to invest in the nation's economy and also prove that Democrats and Republicans can still work together. So what might this mean for the president politically? NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So what now has to happen for these two bills?

KHALID: Well, this $3.5 trillion spending package that is chock full of Democratic priorities for things like climate change and child care is actually just starting to get worked out. So it's just really the first step. And frankly, it's not going to get any Republican votes. Democrats have been insisting that this bill, the $3.5 trillion one, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill must be passed in tandem. The problem for Democrats is that they have such small majorities in both chambers that it could be difficult to keep all their members in line.

ELLIOTT: Now, President Biden seems confident that he is going to win passage of the two spending bills. That would come on top of the big COVID relief bill from earlier this year. Will voters take note?

KHALID: You know, perhaps. But it is not clear that voters have thus far been connecting the dots back to President Biden even if they have been personally benefiting from something he's done. Steve Schale is a Democratic strategist and leads Unite the Country. It's a pro-Biden super PAC that's been running ads trying to promote the president's accomplishments. He told me the story of a Republican woman in one of his focus groups who was saying that the expanded child tax credit had been a lifesaver. But she did not attribute that to the president. And Schale feels that Democrats are going to have their work cut out for them ahead of the midterms.

STEVE SCHALE: If there was a lesson of 2010 or 2014 - particularly 2010, which I lived through and have very real scar tissue from - is that you have to draw those lines. And it's not that voters are clueless. Voters are busy.

ELLIOTT: Certainly busy this year trying to survive a pandemic, right? Now that cases are skyrocketing again, does that hurt Biden's agenda?

KHALID: I took that question to the White House. And the White House told me that they have always known that everything is intrinsically tied to COVID and its unpredictability. They also insist they can walk and chew gum at the same time and say, look at infrastructure. But in terms of other issues, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who's advised Biden, told me that issues like crime or climate change or even voting rights have all fallen off his priorities for voters. She's noticed that when concern about COVID increases, it seems to cloud out everything else. And the president has gotten good marks to date for how he's handled the virus. The question, of course, is whether delta at all changes the dynamic. Here's Celinda Lake.

CELINDA LAKE: I think the jury is still out. People still trust him and his job performance on COVID. It's his best area. On the other hand, I think people are - what can we do about it? Is there anything that can be done about it? Is my governor at fault? Is my president doing what he should? And people are really floundering right now.

KHALID: You know, Celinda says there are aspects of the Democratic agenda that are seen as solutions to problems people have experienced during the pandemic, things like, say, expanded child care that are a part of that big spending bill Democrats want to pass in Congress. The tricky thing is Republicans are also pointing to that big spending bill and saying that it's going to drive up inflation. So really, the question comes down to, you know, connecting the dots and which party can do that more effectively.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.