WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Divisions among congressional Democrats threatened to derail President Joe Biden’s agenda on Wednesday (Sept 29), as moderates voiced anger at the idea of delaying a US$1 trillion (S$1.3 trillion) infrastructure Bill ahead of a critical vote to avert a government shutdown.
The White House said talks over twin Bills revitalising the nation’s roads and airports, as well as addressing social spending and climate change, were at a “precarious” point as moderates and progressives disagreed over the scope of some US$4 trillion in spending.
Congress is due to vote on a bipartisan resolution to fund federal operations through early December before funding expires at midnight on Thursday. Thursday is also the previously agreed – and once delayed – day that the House of Representatives votes on a US$1 trillion infrastructure Bill already passed by the Senate.
Representative Stephanie Murphy, a moderate House Democrat who backs the infrastructure Bill, warned against a failure of the Bill on Thursday – or a delay.
“If the vote were to fail tomorrow or be delayed, there would be a significant breach of trust that would slow the momentum in moving forward in delivering the Biden agenda,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
But with House progressives warning they will vote against the US$1 trillion Bill until a deal is reached on a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar plan to boost social spending and address climate change, the vote was not guaranteed.
“The only way the vote happens (Thursday) is if we have the votes to pass the Bill,” Representative Dan Kildee, House Democrats’ chief deputy whip, told reporters.
Biden cancelled a trip to Chicago so he could lead negotiations with Congress.
“We’re obviously at a precarious and important time,” , White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
A White House staffer met at the Capitol with moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who has expressed deep concern over the size of Biden’s plans and has the power to block them due to the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Senate.
If this latest resolution to fund the government passes the Senate, the House could vote quickly to send the measure to Biden to sign into law, averting a partial government shutdown in the midst of a national health crisis.
Biden’s Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress, campaigned on a platform of responsible government after Republican Donald Trump’s turbulent four years in office.
Republican Senator John Cornyn expressed optimism on Wednesday.
“Democrats don’t want to shut down the government. Republicans don’t want to shut down the government. That will supply the result that we all expect, which is to keep the lights on,” he told a news conference.
Senate Democrats tried to both fund the government and head off a potentially catastrophic federal government default next month but were thwarted by Republicans who twice blocked attempts to raise the nation’s US$28.4 trillion debt ceiling.
The government will hit the ceiling around Oct 18, an event that could cause a historic default with long-lasting economic fallout and implications for financial markets.
The House and Senate may vote on a separate Bill that temporarily lifts the debt limit, but that too is the subject of a bitter partisan fight.
Senate Republicans refuse to vote for it, telling Democrats to act alone, while Senate Democratic Leader Schumer has demanded bipartisan cooperation on a measure to address debts racked up during both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs this month described the standoff as “the riskiest debt-limit deadline in a decade.”
Biden also must negotiate a US$3.5 trillion Bill that aims to expand social programmes and address climate change. Several senior Democrats have said that the “reconciliation” Bill – so called because it is being drawn up under a budgetary procedure to avoid Senate rules requiring 60 votes out of 100 members for passage – will need to be scaled back to pass.
Moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he believed it would take weeks to reach agreement on that plan.
“(The) reconciliation (Bill) is going to take a while; it’s not going to be a week or two or three weeks. There’s a lot,” Manchin said.
With Biden fully engaged with Sinema and Manchin, other Senate Democrats avoided criticising them but showed no sign of relenting on their own demands.
“We’re going to work very hard to ensure that we have a robust climate programme that is in the reconciliation Bill,” progressive Senator Ed Markey told reporters. “We’re not going to be satisfied unless we get it, as I’ve said many times: no climate, no deal.”
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