US President Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST
US President Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST

Washington  —  US President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a $1.75-trillion economic and climate change plan that he said unified Democrats then was quickly rebuffed by members of his own party.

“We have a historic economic framework” that will create jobs and make the US more competitive, Biden said after a last-minute trip to Congress to convince reluctant progressives to support the spending plan. He then departed for a summit of leaders from the G20 countries in Italy.

“It will fundamentally change the lives of millions of people for the better,” Biden said of the agreement, which he badly wanted before the summits to show the world American democracy still works. “Let’s get this done.”

He left behind a US Congress bubbling with conflicts and unanswered questions, but one that seemed to be inching towards votes on his economic agenda, perhaps within days. How, exactly, it could come together remained a puzzle.

It was unclear whether moderate Democrats who want a related bipartisan $1-trillion infrastructure bill passed first are on board. Some progressive Democrats will only vote for the infrastructure bill with the more complicated spending measure, and multiple legislators would like to see changes to Biden's framework.

It was also unknown whether a handful of House Republicans were still committed to vote for the bipartisan bill, or if it even matters.

House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed plans to hold a vote on Thursday on the infrastructure bill, and the House rules committee released a preliminary text of the 1,684-page bill.

“So we’re on a path to get this done,” Pelosi said. “But for those who said I want to see text, the text is there. For you to review, for you to complain about, for you to add to or subtract from, whatever it is.”

The fight over $2.75-trillion in spending that could shape the US economy for years to come will play out in coming days with Biden, who has been heavily involved in negotiations virtually. He won’t return to Washington until Wednesday.

In a meeting with House Democrats on Thursday, Biden pleaded for their support.

‘I need your votes’

“I need you to help me; I need your votes,” a person quoted Biden as saying. “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate (Democratic) majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”

Biden ran for president on a promise to curb growing inequality in America, using education and social spending paid for by companies and the rich. He vowed to depart from Republican tax-cutting including a 2017 tax reduction under his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The president had hoped to reach an agreement before the Rome summit, where a global minimum tax will be high on the agenda, and a climate conference in Glasgow, where Biden hopes to present a message that the US is back in the fight against global warming.

“Not everyone got everything they wanted, not even me,” Biden conceded in his White House remarks. “But that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on.”

US Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the group would need to see any text of a spending bill before promising to vote on the infrastructure legislation.

The White House said the larger spending plan framework Biden presented on Thursday would be fully paid for by repealing certain tax rebates passed under Trump and imposing surcharges on corporate stock buybacks and the earnings of the wealthiest Americans.

The framework includes $555bn in spending for climate initiatives and six years of preschool funding among other top agenda items.

But it does not include paid family leave or a tax on billionaires. Some influential lobby groups and constituencies were angered by the absence of key Biden administration pledges.

An additional $100bn to aid the US’s  immigration and border processing system could boost the overall package to $1.85-trillion if it clears Senate rules.  There’s also free pre-kindergarten for all children and expanded healthcare programmes, including the launch of a new $35bn hearing aid benefit for people with Medicare, reports said. 

“We are outraged that the initial framework does not lower prescription drug prices,” AARP, an advocacy organisation for the elderly, said in a statement.

The absence of paid leave, Democrats noted, leaving the US as the only rich country and one of the few nations in the world that doesn’t provide maternity leave.

“The deal isn’t done until the Senate acts. this is not done,” senator Ron Wyden, an advocate of paid family leave, said.

Some Republicans support the infrastructure measure but most legislators in that party oppose both bills, and Biden can only afford to lose three votes in the House to get either passed.

In addition to their slight majority in the House, Democrats only narrowly control the Senate, with US Vice-President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote, meaning legislation must win support across a wide swathe of progressives and more moderate members of the party.

Reuters 

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