Biden pushes US$1.75 trillion spending Bill; dealt setback on infrastructure

US President Joe Biden speaks about the framework of his "historic" multi-trillion dollar spending deal on Oct 28, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Joe Biden was dealt a setback on Thursday (Oct 28) as the House of Representatives abandoned plans for a vote on an infrastructure Bill with progressives seeking more time to consider his call for a separate $1.75 trillion (S$2.3 trillion) plan for climate measures, preschool and other social initiatives.

Mr Biden had sought to unite his party behind the climate and social spending plan with personal appeals on Thursday, and had pressed for a vote that same day on the US$1 trillion infrastructure bill, another main plank of his agenda.

He hoped a framework on the larger measure would convince progressive House Democrats to support the infrastructure Bill, but their insistence that the two move together led House leaders to abandon a planned vote, leaving Mr Biden empty-handed.

"We have a historic economic framework" that will create jobs and make the United States more competitive, Mr 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 Group of 20 (G-20) countries in Italy.

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 US$1 trillion infrastructure Bill passed first are on board.

"Dozens of our members insist on keeping both Bills linked and cannot vote only for one until they can be voted on together," Representative Pramila Jayapal, a leader of House progressives, said in a statement.

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 Mr Biden, who has been heavily involved in negotiations, thousands of miles away. He will not return until Wednesday.

In a meeting with House Democrats on Thursday, Mr Biden pleaded for their support, according to a person familiar with the matter.

"I need you to help me; I need your votes," Mr Biden told them.

"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."

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The White House said Mr Biden's agenda was still on track, even if it was moving through Congress more slowly than the president might wish.

"We're confident that soon we'll pass both the Build Back Better Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal," White House spokesman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Mr Biden ran for president on a promise to curb growing inequality, 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 he hopes to present a message that the US is back in the fight against global warming.

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US Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks to reporters following a progressive caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, on Oct 28, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

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

Former President Barack Obama echoed a similar sentiment.

"The Build Back Better framework doesn't contain everything the president had proposed and that some had hoped. But that's the nature of progress in a democracy," Mr Obama said, calling the plan a "giant leap forward".

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

The framework includes US$555 billion in spending for climate initiatives and six years of pre-school, among other matters.

Many groups, including labour unions, welcomed the plan.

"The reconciliation framework is a pro-worker victory: childcare, home care, clean energy jobs, healthcare, tax fairness, immigration improvements and support for worker organising," said AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations) president Liz Shuler.

But the plan 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.

"We are outraged that the initial framework does not lower prescription drug prices," the American Association of Retired Persons, an advocacy organisation for the elderly, said in a statement.

US Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks to reporters following a progressive caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, on Oct 28, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The absence of paid leave, Democrats noted, makes the US the only rich country and one of the few nations in the world that does not provide maternity leave.

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

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