House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday they would work quickly to pass legislation implementing a new labor agreement for railroad workers, just hours after President Biden said swift action is needed to avoid a rail strike in early December.
Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer, D-N.Y., made the commitment as they left a White House meeting with Biden, which was also attended by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Pelosi said House Democrats would call up the bill Wednesday morning.
“Tomorrow morning in the House, we will bring up the legislation and send it over to the Senate,” Pelosi said. She said the bill would include the original agreement struck in September, plus “additional benefits that were gained in further discussion,” like paid sick leave.
Schumer added that he and McConnell “agree” with the need to pass the bill and will “try to get it done ASAP.”
The agreement that Biden wants passed would give three unpaid days off a year for engineers and conductors to tend to medical appointments as long as they schedule them at least 30 days in advance. The railroads also promised in September not to penalize workers who are hospitalized and to negotiate further with the unions after the contract is approved about improving the regular scheduling of days off.
Biden noted just before his meeting with lawmakers took place that the deal also “provides a historic 24% pay raise for rail workers.”
Biden urged Congress to act after it became clear that not every rail union would vote to support the agreement. If Congress votes to impose the deal, that would end the union push to add paid sick time. The four unions that have rejected their deals have been pressing for the railroads to add that benefit to help address workers’ quality of life concerns, but the railroads had refused to consider that demand.
“Congress has the power to adopt the agreement and prevent a shutdown,” Biden said Monday. “It should set aside politics and partisan division and deliver for the American people.”
He added, “Congress should get this bill to my desk well in advance of December 9th so we can avoid disruption.”
Before his meeting with Hill leaders, Biden said he thinks Congress has to act to avoid a rail strike. “Not an easy call, but have to do it,” he said.
When asked by a reporter if he is “confident” they can avoid a rail strike, Biden said, “I am confident… I am confident.”
McCarthy said after the meeting that he thinks the legislation “will pass,” but said it is “unfortunate that this is how we’re running our economy today.”
“It’s unfortunate that we’re here because I know the president told us all that this was solved long before the election, and now we find ourselves in the last moments, in the last hours, asking us to rush a bill to the floor,” McCarthy said of the rail agreement. “Nobody wants the economy to fail. Nobody wants this to happen. But this is another situation where the administration told us one thing, just like they told us about inflation was transitory.”
McCarthy said that “now, right before a holiday season, right when farmers to ship their goods and others, we have to rush something to the floor.”
“This is all got to stop and change. We need an economy that is strong,” he added.
The rail strike was the most urgent issue facing Congress and the White House Tuesday morning, but they also discussed other legislative priorities for the final weeks of the year. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the meeting, which took place in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Other attendees included White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain; assistant to the president Steve Richetti; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; and Grisella Martinez, the director of legislative affairs for the vice president.
Biden said he hoped the White House could “work together” with congressional leaders on new funding for COVID and the war in Ukraine. The White House is seeking nearly $50 billion for those to issues.
The meeting also came as congressional Democrats race to secure a year-long government spending bill before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January.
Democrats want a bill that would keep the government funded from Dec. 16, when current funding terminates, until the fall of 2023. That would allow President Biden’s administration to fund pet initiatives while blocking the Republican House from exerting its influence immediately.
Some House Republicans argue that Congress should enact a short-term funding bill until January, which would give Republicans more leverage over Biden and Democrats as they negotiate a longer-term spending bill.
Democrats say the work already done on a year-long budget would go to waste if Congress waited until January. Any proposed spending bills for the current fiscal year would expire and have to be reintroduced if they are not passed when the new Congress begins on Jan. 3.
Unless Congress approves some new spending bill by Dec. 16, the federal government will face a partial shutdown.
Biden said this month he would reach across the aisle and work with Republicans in Congress.
“I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues. The American people have made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well,” Biden said.
However, the president said that “under no circumstances” would he support proposals to make cuts or changes to Social Security or Medicare.
“That’s not on the table, I will not do that,” Biden said. “I will veto any attempt to pass a national ban on abortion.”
He added, “But I’m ready to compromise with Republicans where it makes sense on many other issues, and I always put the needs and interests of the American people first.”
Biden said the American people have “made it clear they don’t want every day going forward to be a constant political battle.”
“There’s too much of that going on and there’s too much we have to do,” he said. “The future for America is to promise not to be trapped in an endless political warfare. And I really mean it.”
Throughout the midterm election cycle, Biden warned that the future of democracy was at stake and specifically warned against the ideology of “ultra MAGA” Republicans.
“I don’t think we’re going to break the fever for the super mega MAGA Republicans,” Biden said. “I think they’re a minority of the Republican Party. I think the vast majority of the members of the Republican Party, we disagree strongly on issues, but they’re decent, honorable people.”
Biden said those Republicans are “honest, and they’re straightforward” and “decent folks.”
Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich, Tara Prindiville, Haris Alic and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)