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Biden pitches 'historic' spending plan to transform America

Biden pitches 'historic' spending plan to transform America

US President Joe Biden, followed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (C) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (R), arrives at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Oct 28, 2021. (Photo: AFP/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Thursday (Oct 28) announced a "historic" blueprint for remaking America's economy, as he sought to pressure dissenters within his own Democratic Party to back the plan after months of tortuous negotiations.

Biden is banking his legacy on passing the US$1.75 trillion Build Back Better social welfare package, a compact with the American people for a more equitable and greener society and the jewel in the crown of his domestic agenda.

He announced he was sure of support for a revised spending framework just before taking off for a G20 summit in Rome - although whether his efforts galvanised the party's feuding rank-and-file remained to be seen.

"I know we have a historic economic framework," Biden said in an address to the nation from the White House, shortly after meeting with Democratic leaders in Congress.

"It's a framework that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, and put us on a path not only to compete, but to win the economic competition for the 21st century against China and every other major country in the world."

Build Back Better - Biden's potentially career-defining package of education, health care, child care and clean energy reforms - is linked to another Bill working its way through Congress worth US$1.2 trillion in upgrades for roads, bridges and other hard infrastructure.

Nancy Pelosi, a key Biden ally and speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters she wanted a vote on infrastructure by the end of Sunday, when funding for numerous federal ground transport programs runs out.


The vote has been delayed several times in the last six weeks as left-leaning Democrats have insisted they will not back the infrastructure Bill unless their priorities are included in the Build Back Better package.

Liberals said they needed to see a finalised text on the social welfare package before committing to an infrastructure vote - prompting party leadership to release the 2,468-page Bill.

If enacted, it would provide universal pre-school education for three- and four-year-olds, expand government-backed health care coverage for at least four years and slash the country's greenhouse gas emissions over a decade.

Left out of the framework, however, were key progressive priorities to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave, free community college, and reform on America's sky-high prescription drug prices.

Pelosi described the legislation as "transformative and cause for celebration", while acknowledging disappointment that family leave was dropped.

"It's remarkable in that it is a big vision, bigger vision than we've seen in a very long time, maybe dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal, and in some respects to Lyndon Johnson, who had a great agenda as well," she said.

Centrist Democratic US Senator Joe Manchin leaves the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Oct 28, 2021. (Photo: AFP: Mandel Ngan)

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, conservative Democratic senators who have held up the social spending component, calling it too expensive, sounded positive but did not commit to supporting Biden's framework.

Another major negotiating figure, leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, said he saw "major gaps" in the plan.


But Biden made a pitch for his party finally to put its divisions aside and get on board.

"We spent hours and hours and hours over months and months working on this," Biden said.

"No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that's what compromise is. That's consensus, and that's what I ran on."

The 78-year-old president had hoped to secure a vote in Congress before flying to Rome and then next week to a UN climate summit in Glasgow.

But while Democrats control both houses of Congress, the margins are so tight - with only a one-vote advantage in the Senate and a handful in the House - that enacting major legislation is complicated.

Biden has already compromised heavily, seeing his original US$3.5 trillion wish list for social spending whittled down to about half that.

But at this point, even the scaled-back spending framework would represent a major legislative win a year after Biden defeated Donald Trump with a promise to heal America's "soul".

And despite continued Democratic debate, a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "The president believes this framework will earn the support of all 50 Democratic senators and pass the House."

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said he wanted to see more specifics, voicing disappointment that state and local tax relief and prescription drug pricing reform had been dropped.

"I've been around long enough to know that what's in the legislation is critically important ... I see the framework as an opportunity to get to the final goal," he told MSNBC.

Source: AFP/ec


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