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Democratic infighting threatens Biden’s big agenda

 29 days ago

D emocrats planned to pass a massive social spending bill along with a major infrastructure package, government funding, and a debt ceiling increase — all by the end of September.

But the plan is crumbling due to internal differences over spending, taxes, and big policy changes lawmakers hoped to include in the legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday offered assurances that Democrats are on target to achieve their primary goal of passing President Joe Biden’s dual infrastructure and social welfare spending bill.


“Democrats continue to make good progress towards sending our Build Back Better agenda into law,” the New York Democrat said on the Senate floor.

But in reality, Democrats have no apparent path to pass both a $3.5 trillion social welfare spending bill and a $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure measure, despite a self-imposed Sept. 27 deadline.

In addition, the party triggered a fiscal standoff with Republicans on Monday by announcing a must-pass government spending bill will be linked to a debt ceiling increase despite a warning from the GOP they’ll block legislation that pairs the two measures.

Most of the Democratic Party’s problems stem from differences among party lawmakers regarding spending and taxes.

Centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose the $3.5 trillion cost of the social welfare package, which would pay for free universal preschool, free community college, paid family and medical leave, money for elder care, expanded Medicare benefits, extended child tax credits, and more.

Manchin has repeatedly called for slowing down consideration of the $3.5 trillion package, which other party lawmakers fear will hurt the chances of ever passing it.

Manchin is also opposed to raising corporate tax rates above 25%, which is below the 26.5% rate his party proposed to offset the cost of the social welfare bill.

Party leaders are also dealing with Democratic opposition to big policy changes.

Sinema and several House centrist Democrats say they opposed a House provision in the $3.5 trillion package that would provide roughly $700 billion by allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, which opponents say would hurt drug innovation. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, opposes a plan to increase capital gains taxes because he believes it would hurt family farmers. Meanwhile, Manchin disapproves of green energy initiatives aimed at ending the use of fossil fuels.

The opposition leaves Democrats with a difficult, if not impossible, path to passing the two bills.

House Democrats control the majority with just three seats, while the Senate is evenly split, meaning Democrats cannot lose a single party vote if they hope to pass the big spending bill.

Schumer was nonetheless upbeat on Monday.

“No one expected it would be easy to pass legislation to transform the American economy and pass the biggest tax cut for the middle class in a generation,” Schumer said. “But no one in this body was elected to do only the easy stuff. We have a lot of hard work to do. And we're going to keep adding until we get the job done.”

However, House Democrats face immediate opposition to their plan to pass the two-part package.

The head of the House liberal faction announced Democrats oppose a leadership plan to take up the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Sept. 27.

House Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, is among many Democrats who say they won’t vote for the infrastructure bill unless the House and Senate first pass the $3.5 trillion spending package.

The infrastructure package provides funding for roads, bridges, water projects, and expanded broadband and was negotiated between Senate lawmakers and Biden, who is eager to sign it into law.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, could bring up the infrastructure bill and attempt to pass it over the objections of many Democrats but with the help of dozens of Republicans who are poised to support it.

It would be considered a major betrayal to the Democratic Party base, but a top party lawmaker hinted it's a possible strategy.

On Sunday, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth told Fox News Sunday the House could pass the infrastructure bill next week. Still, Pelosi could delay sending it to the president to provide time for passing the social welfare spending package.

“She can hold on to that bill for a while,” Yarmuth said. “So, there's some flexibility in terms of how we mesh the two mandates.”

The internal strife slowing the Biden spending agenda will soon clash with the House and Senate’s primary responsibility to pass annual government funding.

The fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, and Congress must pass a temporary measure to provide the funding needed to keep the government fully operating.

Democrats Monday announced they plan to pair the government funding bill with a provision to suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022.

Democrats decided to link the two measures despite a warning from Senate Republicans that they would not provide the 10 GOP votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate.

Republicans said they oppose helping Democrats raise the debt limit while Democrats seek to unilaterally pass the $3.5 trillion spending package using a budgetary tactic that eliminates the filibuster.


Republican opposition means Democrats will likely have to come up with another way to pass the temporary government funding and the debt limit, likely by de-linking the two measures.

“Democrats decided to govern alone,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Monday. “Their unified Democratic government must put basic governing duties ahead of partisan wish lists. If they don’t, the consequences for our country would be catastrophic.”

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