Shutdown averted, but Dem divisions imperil Biden’s domestic agenda

Washington: Democrats prepared to vote Thursday to avert a government shutdown, but they were desperately trying to save President Biden’s bold domestic agenda as holdout Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema dug in against an ambitious $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate bill that carries many of the progressives’ top priorities, reported The New York Times.

Congressional leaders moved to address the most immediate threat, working to complete a bill to prevent a government funding lapse at midnight on Thursday. Yet after protracted negotiations to bridge bitter differences in their party over Mr. Biden’s two biggest legislative priorities, the $1 Trillion infrastructure bill and the one with  $3.5 trillion tag,  president and top Democrats appeared as far as ever from an agreement on their marquee social policy package, which the White House calls the Build Back Better plan.

That, in turn, was risking the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was scheduled for a House vote on Thursday.

The fate of the two measures could define the success of Mr. Biden’s presidency, and the intense negotiations surrounding them have posed a test of his skills as a deal maker. But after days of personal meetings with lawmakers in the Oval Office and phone calls to key players, Mr. Biden remained far short of a deal.

Dramatizing the challenge, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a leading holdout on the social policy bill, issued a lengthy and strongly worded statement on Wednesday evening reiterating his opposition to the proposal as currently constituted, saying it amounted to “fiscal insanity.”

The statement was the polar opposite of what Mr. Biden and top Democrats had hoped to extract from Mr. Manchin and other centrist critics of the bill by week’s end — a firm public commitment to eventually vote for the social policy measure, in order to placate liberals who want to ensure its enactment.

Instead, it further enraged progressives who were already promising to oppose the infrastructure bill until Congress acted on the larger social policy plan, which Democrats plan to push through using a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation to shield it from a filibuster. They have been pressing to push off the infrastructure vote until after votes on the reconciliation bill — or, at the very least, after the centrist holdouts provided a firm sense of what they would accept in that package.

Rep Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, “After that statement, we probably have even more people willing to vote ‘no’ on the bipartisan bill.”

The impasse left unclear the fate of the infrastructure measure. While a handful of centrist Republicans plan to support it, G.O.P. leaders are urging their members to oppose it, leaving Democrats who hold a slim majority short of votes to pass the bill if progressives revolt.

“The plan is to bring the bill to the floor,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, returning to Capitol Hill after huddling at the White House with Mr. Biden and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader. Asked whether she was concerned about the votes, she added, “One hour at a time.”

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy AP)

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