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Biden encourages Congress to take up rail negotiations

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President Joe Biden (C) meets Congressional leaders (L-R) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Tuesday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI
President Joe Biden (C) meets Congressional leaders (L-R) House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Tuesday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden called on congressional leaders from both parties to work together Tuesday to avoid a rail strike that could cripple the economy in the middle of the holiday season.

Biden, whose administration had helped negotiate an agreement to advert such a strike last month, said he believed Congress could come up with a plan to help avoid a work stoppage.

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In October, the country's major rail companies and their unions reached a tentative agreement that included an average 24% pay increase over five years, improved working conditions and caps on what they have to pay for healthcare.

But issues like lack of time off and other working condition concerns were enough for rank-and-file members to vote against the measure despite approval from union leadership.

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"There's a lot to do," Biden said in comments to the House and Senate leaders. "Congress I think has to act to prevent (the strike). It's not an easy call but I think we have to do it. The economy is at risk. We're going to work together to fund the government."

Biden and Democrats also hope to pass protections for same-sex and interracial marriages after the Supreme Court ruled last summer to overturn the Roe vs. Wade abortion precedent. Republicans will take over the House in January, likely limiting Biden's legislative agenda.

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Biden also mentioned continuing support for Ukraine and staying on top of COVID-19 as other issues the lame-duck Congress could work on.

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"The American people want us to work together," Biden said. "We're here to get work done."

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged that Senate Republicans would not try to block a bill to avert a rail strike. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said the body would move legislation quickly to stop a strike.

"[On Wednesday] morning we will have a bill on the floor," Pelosi said. "I don't like going against the ability of unions to strike, but weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike. Jobs will be lost. Even union jobs will be lost."

According to the White House, Biden told Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy. R-Calif., and McConnell, that he was interested in finding new common ground with them despite current and past disagreements on issues. McCarthy could become the new speaker of the House in January.

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