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US lawmakers mull votes on historic Biden agenda in coming hours

US lawmakers mull votes on historic Biden agenda in coming hours

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is pushing for a swift vote on both parts of the White House's agenda. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers sought to inject momentum into President Joe Biden's faltering legislative agenda on Thursday (Nov 4), dangling votes within 24 hours on his US$3 trillion blueprint to transform transport networks and expand the welfare safety net.

House Democratic leaders are expected to push for a vote as early as Thursday to advance Biden's US$1.75 trillion Build Back Better social spending plan and another on Friday morning to rubber-stamp the Senate-passed US$1.2 trillion infrastructure Bill.

"As the American people learn more about what we are doing in this legislation - for families, for children, for women in the workforce, to save our planet, the rest - it will be very positive," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.

She wouldn't confirm the timetable but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a separate statement Democrats were "closer than we've ever been to finalising and passing legislation," adding that he wants the social spending Bill on Biden's desk by Thanksgiving in late November.

A green light from the House on infrastructure would pave the way for a history-making upgrade of the country's crumbling roads, bridges, waterways and broadband network.

Progressives had insisted that Build Back Better pass before they vote on infrastructure, but that position has softened.

Space for the votes has been cleared on Thursday's schedule, although Congress-watchers, cautious after previous missed deadlines, believe the drama could bleed into the weekend.

The social spending Bill doesn't have Senate blessing yet, meaning the House going full-speed-ahead is merely a pressure tactic to light a fire under dawdling senators in hopes that a House-passed Bill spurs them into action.

Pelosi said she was "very unhappy" to have failed twice in recent weeks to pass infrastructure and was determined that the Bills could move together.

DILEMMA

The drama on Capitol Hill will be closely watched by the president, who returned from an overseas trip Wednesday to a party floored by a Republican sweep in Virginia elections and razor-thin victory instead of the expected comfortable win in the race for governor of New Jersey.

The Democrats are desperate to avoid repeating those setbacks in next year's midterm elections, although many observers are unconvinced that the coming bloodbath can be averted by any action in Congress.

Minority leader Kevin McCarthy has predicted Republicans, who have 213 representatives compared with the Democrats' 221, could flip more than 60 House seats next year, repeating the Tea Party wave of 2010.

Either way, Tuesday's poor returns leave Democrats with a dilemma: is Biden's agenda too progressive for the political centre, or is it so diluted from the initial bold proposals that it won't enthuse the left?

The answers offered by the various factions tend to match their established political positions, with conservatives calling for a handbrake on the social spending and liberals redoubling their efforts to get both Bills passed.

Senate holdout Joe Manchin is greatly influenced by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, which assesses that the US$1.75 trillion Build Back Better price tag would increase to almost US$4 trillion if its provisions become permanent.

'TOO FAR LEFT'

"We can't go too far left. This is not a centre left or a left country," the conservative West Virginia Democrat, who has made clear he will not be swayed by whatever the House passes, told CNN on Thursday.

In reality, Build Back Better polls extremely well across America, which has only handed a Republican president the popular vote once since the 1980s.

A Thursday report from Moody's concludes that the two Bills would add 1.5 million jobs a year and grow the economy by nearly US$3 trillion over the next decade.

Echoing Manchin's prudence, five House moderates have insisted on a budgetary score to ensure that the Bill is "fiscally responsible" before they will vote, which would likely take two weeks.

Perhaps the biggest sticking point though is immigration, with three Latino lawmakers opposed to any version of Build Back Better that doesn't provide more undocumented immigrants with legal status.

The latest draft includes a five-year work authorisation and protections for undocumented immigrants - but no pathway to citizenship that many Democrats are seeking.

These protections may not be allowed in the final legislation though, because of complex Senate procedure that bars non-budget items from being added to some legislation passed on a party-line basis.

"Millions of immigrants have toiled as essential workers throughout this pandemic, have raised their children under enormous adversity, and have kept this country running," Latino lobby group Make the Road said in a statement.

"We deserve citizenship, period. House Democrats must reverse course and ensure that a path to citizenship is restored in the final version."

Source: AFP/ec

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