October 18. 2021. 4:25

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Democrats remain divided over Biden’s massive spending Bills

US house speaker Nancy Pelosi: scrambling to patch up differences between progressive politicians. Photograph: Al Drago/Bloomberg


US president Joe Biden was due to meet with his fellow Democrats in Congress on Friday, as progressives and moderates in his party remained divided over two massive spending Bills that account for much of his domestic agenda.

Democrats have struggled to coalesce around those two Bills. Progressives have vowed to block a $1 trillion infrastructure Bill without an agreement to advance a larger social spending and climate change Bill. Moderates say that Bill’s current $3.5 trillion price tag is too high.

After a two-hour party meeting, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives did not appear to have a clear plan. Representative James Clyburn, the chamber’s number three Democrat, said he had “no idea” whether there would be a vote.

But Hakeem Jeffries, who is among Democratic leaders in the chamber, said he expected the house to vote on the infrastructure Bill on Friday, one day later than planned. “I expect a vote today, and I expect that Bill will pass today,” he said.

House Democrats are waiting for an “iron-clad” agreement from the Senate as to what its members could agree to, he said.

“We are working on trying to get to a place where everybody is comfortable,” number two house Democrat Steny Hoyer told reporters.

The White House said Mr Biden would travel to Capitol Hill to speak with Democrats later in the day.

With a narrow majority in the house, Mr Biden’s party cannot afford to lose too many votes on the infrastructure legislation, which would double spending on roads, pipes and other infrastructure. The Bill has already passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

Transportation

Democrats said they also planned a vote to ensure that transportation funding, which expired on Thursday, is not disrupted while they continue to negotiate.

Ahead of the meeting, Democrat Pramila Jayapal, the influential chair of the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the smaller Bill could not pass without agreement on the larger, multitrillion-dollar one.

“I kept telling her that we didn’t have the votes, and I knew she knew that,” Ms Jayapal said of house speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Progressives are angry that two Senate moderates – Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – oppose the size of Mr Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan to boost social spending and fight climate change. The Senate is split 50-50 with Republicans, all of whom oppose the multitrillion-dollar Bill, so every Democratic vote is needed for passage, with vice-president Kamala Harris the tie-breaker.

Mr Manchin has proposed a spending package of about $1.5 trillion. Ms Sinema on Thursday declined to say whether she agreed with Mr Manchin’s proposal. She has met with Mr Biden multiple times to discuss the Bill. She was home in Arizona on Friday but remained in touch with the White House, a spokesman said.

Democratic representative Dean Phillips, a moderate, said he wanted to see a vote on the infrastructure Bill, even if it was not certain that it would pass.

Midterm elections

House Republicans are unlikely to help pass the infrastructure Bill, eager to deny Biden a policy victory ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when history favours their chances to recapture majorities.

Congress, which averted a politically damaging government shutdown on Thursday, has little time to focus on the infrastructure fight due to another fast-approaching deadline: the debt ceiling.

A historic US debt default could occur around October 18th, treasury secretary Janet Yellen has estimated, if Congress fails to give the government additional borrowing authority beyond the current statutory limit of $28.4 trillion.

Republicans want no part of the debt limit increase, saying it is Democrats’ problem since they control Congress and the White House. Democrats note that about $5 trillion of the nation’s debt is the result of tax cuts and spending passed during Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.

The house approved a Bill late on Wednesday suspending the debt limit through December 2022. The Senate could vote on it “as early as next week”, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said, but Republicans are expected to block it again, as they have twice before. – Reuters