WASHINGTON - Meeting for the first time with congressional leaders since the midterm elections, President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to intervene in a labor dispute between unions and operators of the nation's freight railroads and complete other items on a hefty to-do list before leaving town for the holidays.
"There's a lot to do, including resolving the train strike," Biden said in brief remarks before the news media was ushered out. "It's not an easy call but I think we have to do it. The economy's at risk."
Biden wants lawmakers to adopt before a Dec. 9 strike deadline an agreement brokered by the White House in September between labor union leaders and rail operators. Four of the 12 rail unions have voted to reject the five-year agreement, leaving Congress as the last option to avert a system shutdown.
"We're working on it," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the meeting, when asked if there's sufficient support to pass the legislation.
Lawmakers also face a Dec. 16 deadline to agree on a 2023 budget before the expiration of a temporary funding measure that would lead to a partial government shutdown.
Biden has asked Congress to include in the funding package more than $37 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine and $9.25 billion for a possible winter surge of COVID-19.
"We're going to work together to fund - I hope work together to fund the government, COVID, and the war in Ukraine," he said.
Later on the Senate floor, Schumer warned of the danger of not passing a full-year fding bill.
"If we don't take action, the results will be a pointless and painful government shutdown," he said. "Ultimately, it's average Americans who get a raw deal if the government is forced to function with one hand tied behind its back."
Republicans have been resistant to additional pandemic funding and have called for more scrutiny over Biden's Ukraine funding requests.
Republicans might also try to block passage of an annual defense policy bill to try to force changes on vaccine mandates and other issues when they regain control of the House in January.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said this month the bill should be held until January so lawmakers could "get it right."
Facing a slim majority and opposition from a handful of hard-right lawmakers, McCarthy is trying to pin down the votes he'll need to be elected House speaker in January.
It was the first meeting between Biden and congressional leaders since the mid-term elections. Democrats fared better than expected but the president must still contend next year with a GOP-run House intent on setting its own priorities and using its investigative authority to hold the administration accountable.
"I think the administration got an indication it's going to be different," McCarthy said after the meeting, promising to begin an investigation into border security on Jan. 3. "No longer is our administration going to look you in the eye and lie to you and tell you a border is secure when it's not."
Still, Biden said the group could find "areas of common ground."
"The American people want us to work together," he said.
There's bipartisan support for legislation to codify the right to gay and interracial marriage, a measure that could be sent to Biden's desk by the end of the week.
Democrats also hope to pass before the end of the year legislation to clarify how presidential Electoral College votes are tallied and challenged, aiming to prevent confusion that helped foment the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
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Biden to Congress:: Intervene in labor dispute, avert rail strike that would 'devastate' US
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden urges lawmakers to stop rail strike, avoid government shutdown