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Biden pleads case for $2t spending bills

China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-10-22 10:38
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US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on infrastructure legislation at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, US, Oct 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Hometown pitch stresses infrastructure needs in shadow of midterm elections

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania-US President Joe Biden made an impassioned plea on Wednesday in his birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvania, for massive spending on infrastructure and social safety nets in the United States, as members of his Democratic Party feud over the price tag.

"America is still the largest economy, ... but we risk losing our edge as a nation," said Biden, describing the gap between modernization of the US' infrastructure and that of its competitors. "We haven't passed an infrastructure bill for decades."

The two bills under debate-one for repairing infrastructure and another to fund childcare and other social spending-will "breathe new life into the economy", Biden said in his speech at a museum for trolley trains in the blue-collar Pennsylvania town where he spent part of his childhood.

The bills remain stuck in Congress, where Democrats control both houses with razor-thin majorities but are divided among themselves on the cost and scope of Biden's proposals.

Negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are underway on what's now a scaled-back package but would still be an unprecedented federal effort to expand social services for millions and confront the rising threat of climate change.

There were positive signals on Wednesday, but no solid deal, with two key senators still holding back.

Biden showed his frustration, almost shouting in mid-speech:"This is the United States of America, damn it. What are we doing?"

But in an address filled with emotional references to his family's humble roots and connections to the working class, he predicted a happy ending for the two bills.

"This has been declared dead on arrival from the moment I introduced it, but I think we're going to surprise them," he said.

At stake are a $1.2 trillion bill for improving creaking US bridges, roads and railways and an even bigger splurge on childcare and other areas that Biden says will provide historic help to struggling ordinary citizens.

The main bone of contention is the size of the second package, with an initial figure endorsed by Biden of $3.5 trillion.

The White House is now indicating it would settle for something between $1.9 and $2.2 trillion, while a leading moderate Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, wants as little as $1.5 trillion. The ultimate top line may fall somewhere in between.

That means making significant cuts to Biden's priorities in areas like expanding free education and clean energy.

The Democrats appear ready to abandon what had been a loftier package in favor of a smaller, more workable proposal the party can unite around-all to be funded by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, those earning more than $400,000 a year. However, those details are still being negotiated.

"Here's the deal: If you spent $3 on your coffee this morning, that's more than what 55 major corporations paid in taxes in recent years,"Biden tweeted. "It's wrong-and it's got to change."

'Imminent' deal?

Senator Chuck Schumer, who heads the Democrats' tiny majority in the Senate, fueled expectations that a deal may be imminent.

"We are getting closer to an agreement. We want to finalize a deal by the end of this week," he said on Wednesday.

"Everyone is going to have to compromise if we are to find that legislative sweet spot that we can all get behind."

But with Manchin and another reluctant Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema, still not on board, the White House remained cautious.

"We've made a lot of progress but we still have work to do," Biden's senior adviser Cedric Richmond told CNN.

Biden's Scranton speech was meant to remind his party that he beat Donald Trump for the presidency last year in part by wooing blue-collar workers.

"Both these bills were all that I talked about. But guess what? Eighty-one million people voted for me. More people voted than any time in American history and their voices deserve to be heard," he said.

Midterm legislative elections in just over a year could see the Democrats lose their majorities in one or both chambers to the Republicans, meaning Biden's spending plans are unlikely to get a second chance.

Agencies via Xinhua

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