Facing divisions, US House Democrats postpone vote on $4.7 trillion Biden plan

The setback comes as Mr Joe Biden is facing sharp criticism over the Taleban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.
The setback comes as Mr Joe Biden is facing sharp criticism over the Taleban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Democrats in the US House of Representatives early Tuesday (Aug 24) postponed a vote to advance President Joe Biden's ambitious plan to expand social programmes, as liberals and centrists remained at odds over which parts of his agenda should get priority.

Democrats had planned a vote to pass the US$3.5 trillion (S$4.75 trillion) budget plan for Monday evening, but cancelled it after hours of closed-door talks failed to overcome internal party divisions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had hoped to quickly approve the US$3.5 budget outline, which would enable lawmakers to begin filling in the details on a sweeping package that would boost spending on childcare, education and other social programmes and raise taxes on the wealthy and the corporations.

But centrist Democrats refused to go along, saying the House must first pass another Biden priority: a US$1 trillion infrastructure Bill that has already won approval by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

Representative Jim McGovern, a senior Democrat, said late Monday that leadership was still trying to work out whether they had the votes to proceed.

Democrats hold a narrow 220-212 majority in the House and Republicans have said they will not support the budget plan.

Liberals worry they might lose leverage on the social-spending effort if they first pass the infrastructure Bill.

The delay does not necessarily mean that Mr Biden's budget plan is doomed. Ms Pelosi can bring it up again for a vote, presumably after working out a compromise between the party's factions.

Mr Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said the chamber will return at noon Tuesday. It was not clear whether Democrats would have resolved their divisions by that point.

The setback comes as Mr Biden is facing sharp criticism over the Taleban's swift takeover of Afghanistan after 20 years of war.

The House vote would allow Democrats to pass the social-spending measures on a simple majority vote in the Senate, rather than the 60 votes required for most legislation in that chamber.

The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.