Biden admits Build Back Better economic proposal will likely be put off to 2022

US President Joe Biden expressed confidence that the measure would eventually pass and urged for patience. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Joe Biden has acknowledged that his US$2 trillion (S$2.7 trillion) economic proposal would likely not clear Congress this year, meaning that 2021 ends without a major accomplishment on social and climate policy.

The President, in a statement released on Thursday evening (Dec 16), expressed confidence that the measure would eventually pass and urged patience as negotiations continue with Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who has raised objections to the package.

"My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week," Mr Biden said in the statement. "It takes time to finalise these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote."

He added: "We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead."

Mr Biden's statement came as Senate Democrats punted their plans to debate the Build Back Better Bill into January after it became clear that there was no easy way to get them to 50 votes in the evenly divided Chamber before lawmakers leave Washington for the Christmas recess.

House Democrats passed their version of the Bill last month but, after months of talks, Mr Manchin remains a key holdout for Democrats.

The delay denies Mr Biden a major year-end victory that his allies hoped would bolster his sagging poll numbers and show voters that Democrats, with control of the White House and both Chambers of Congress, can deliver for Americans.

Mr Biden and the Democrats can, however, highlight the US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and the US$550 billion infrastructure law as evidence that they are making good on their campaign promises as the 2022 midterm election season approaches.

Yet the failure of Mr Biden's signature economic plan to pass this year is just the latest and starkest reminder of the limits Democrats face with their narrow Senate majority that includes a few members who are more conservative than much of the party.

Other priorities that Mr Biden and congressional candidates campaigned on in 2020, including gun control and overhauls of the policing and immigration systems, proved elusive during his first year in office. Senate Democrats are still seeking to pass voting rights legislation, though that remains a long shot.

The economic Bill hit a wall this week as Mr Manchin negotiated directly with Mr Biden but made little progress, people familiar with the negotiations have said. The Bill calls for five years of spending and tax increases that would contribute US$112.5 billion in deficit reduction, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Mr Manchin, though, is concerned that it would commit the federal government to even more years of spending that will contribute to the deficit.

Mr Manchin said on Wednesday that one of his objections is a one-year extension of a child tax credit. He said in an interview with CNN that it hides the true cost of the Bill and that it should be extended for 10 years, if at all. But that would soak up most of the US$1.75 trillion maximum he has set for social and climate policy spending legislation and require many other provisions to be dropped or drastically modified.

As the talks with Mr Manchin stalled, Mr Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to pivot to trying to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act before the end of the year. But Mr Manchin and Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema have so far refused to sign on to a plan to change the 60-vote filibuster rule required to pass it. Ms Sinema met Democrats on Wednesday to discuss the possible rule change and appeared to come away unconvinced.

Ms Sinema supports the 60-vote threshold "to protect the country from repeated radical reversals in federal policy, which would cement uncertainty, deepen divisions and further erode Americans' confidence in our government", said her spokesman, Mr John LaBombard. Ms Sinema also wants a public debate over the potential modification to Senate procedure.

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