Biden in Michigan to tout spending plan as gridlock grips Washington

US President Joe Biden is greeted by Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin as he arrives in Michigan on Oct 5, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

HOWELL, MICHIGAN (REUTERS) - President Joe Biden travelled to Michigan on Tuesday (Oct 5) to broadcast the benefits of his huge social spending package for a wide swathe of Americans, while lawmakers in his Democratic Party back in Washington wrangled over its price tag.

Squabbling Democratic moderates and progressives dealt Biden a major setback last week when they failed to move ahead with his proposed US$1 trillion (S$1.3 trillion) infrastructure Bill or the planned US$3.5 trillion social spending Bill, which is now facing cuts.

The two Bills would "help level the playing field for people all over the state of Michigan in both urban and rural communities," White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One on the way to the political swing state.

Democrats fear that if they fail to pass the infrastructure Bill, they could be punished by angry voters in next year's congressional elections. Rebuilding US infrastructure was one of Biden's key election promises.

The larger "Build Back Better" Bill Biden proposed includes childcare, housing and healthcare benefits, free community college tuition and clean energy subsidies, all of which the White House said would not increase the nation's debt because they would be paid for by taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

Before leaving Washington, Biden met virtually with moderate Democratic members of the House of Representatives about the infrastructure Bill and his Build Back Better agenda.

"It was a constructive meeting," Jean-Pierre said.

Biden held a similar meeting with progressives on Monday.

Biden allies worry that his planned programmes, many of which opinion polls show are popular with a majority of Americans, have been lost in the legislative wrangling.

Michigan is an election battleground state that Biden flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2020. The White House said aging infrastructure has slowed commutes for Michigan residents and that many lack access to broadband Internet and childcare.

Biden was in Howell, a city of about 9,500 located roughly 90km west of Detroit, to visit an International Union of Operating Engineers training facility. The town sits in the highly competitive eighth congressional district. Voters there picked Trump in 2020 but also returned Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin to Congress.

Slotkin supports the US$1 trillion roads-and-bridges Bill and has advocated for elements of the broader social-spending legislation but said she would need to review the plan in full.

Progressive House Democrats have said they will not vote for the infrastructure Bill until they get backing for Biden's social spending Bill, whose price tag has caused some moderates to baulk. The dispute forced Democratic leaders last week to postpone a vote scheduled on the infrastructure measure, which has already secured bipartisan Senate support.

Biden has said the size of the social spending Bill will have to come down to win over two Senate Democratic moderates, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. Their support is necessary because all Senate Republicans oppose the larger Bill and every Democratic vote is needed for passage.

In his virtual meeting with progressives on Monday, Biden put forward a range of US$1.9 trillion to US$2.2 trillion for the social spending reconciliation package, a House Democratic aide said.

The aide said the influential chair of the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Pramila Jayapal, pushed back on that range, suggesting that it would be too low to fit all of the programmes that the president previously told Congress were priorities.

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