Biden hails domestic policy victory before heading abroad

Biden unveiled a pared down social services package he says will unite the party, before departing for G20, COP26.

President Biden met Democrats before announcing support for his social services framework [File: Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press]

United States President Joe Biden presented a pared-down version of a legislative initiative he hopes will be a legacy-defining domestic policy overhaul – promising extensive national investments in social welfare and clean energy.

Biden spent Thursday morning meeting with legislators from his party on Capitol Hill, before he announced he had the support needed to pass his framework for a $1.75 trillion of social services and climate change programmes, whittled down from an initially proposed $3.5 trillion version.

The announcement topped weeks of wrangling with Democratic legislators, with Biden struggling to unify the party’s progressive and centrist wings.

Biden’s declaration that the new package has the votes needed to pass represented a domestic victory shortly before he departs for a G20 leaders summit in Italy and the United Nations COP26 climate forum in Scotland, where he is expected to push a global version of his so-called “Build Back Better” agenda.

“After months of tough and thoughtful negotiations, I think we have an historic – I know we have an historic – economic framework,” Biden said in remarks at the White House after meeting with Democratic legislators to cinch the deal.

“It’s a framework that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people,” Biden said.

“This framework will make the most significant investment in climate ever,” Biden said, adding it would set the stage for the US to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent in the next decade.

The US president has sold his plan, which includes a separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill, as once in a generation overhaul of US domestic services similar to the New Deal programmes that dragged the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But with only a narrow majority in both the House and Senate, Biden’s ambitious agenda had met opposition within his own party, notably by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Democrats have the narrowest of margins in the chamber, which is split 50-50 with Republicans. Vice President Kamala Harris casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told US broadcaster CNN she wants to hold a vote on Thursday.

Hold-out Democratic Senator Sinema tweeted her endorsement of the negotiated plan.

Pared down package

After weeks of negotiation, a proposal to guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave for US workers ended up on the cutting room floor. As did a proposal that would allow the US government to negotiate cheaper prescription drug prices.

Still included were programmes guaranteeing free pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, expanded healthcare programmes, including launching a $35bn new hearing aid benefit for seniors on Medicare and expanded homecare for the elderly.

The package outlined on Thursday included $555bn in clean energy tax credits, in what the White House has called the “largest effort to combat climate change in American history”.

The proposal would be paid for by imposing a new 5 percent surtax on income more than $10m a year and instituting a new 15 percent corporate minimum tax, keeping with his plans to have no new taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year, officials said.

Revenue to help pay for the package would also come from rolling back some of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts, along with stepped-up enforcement of tax-dodgers by the IRS. Biden has pledged that revenue will cover the entire cost of the plan, ensuring it does not pile onto the debt load.

Republican opposition

Republicans panned the deal as another Democratic tax-and-spend boondoggle. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, said in a tweet, “the more the American people learn about Democrat’s Socialist Spending Scam, the less they like it.”

Republican Representative Majorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing acolyte of former President Donald Trump, called the deal a scam.

Leading progressive legislator, US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, praised the deal as “probably the most consequential bill since the 1960s in terms of protecting the needs of working families, the elderly, the sick and the poor”.

“It is a major step forward. But clearly, to my mind it has some major gaps in it,” Sanders told reporters at the Capitol after the deal was announced, citing provisions cut during negotiations that he said would have reduced the cost of prescription drugs.

Other legislators cautioned on Thursday that the agreed-to outline was not yet the full legislative text, the drafting of which could potentially lead to more obstacles.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, the progressive caucus leader, hailed the unveiling of the framework as showing “tremendous momentum”.

She added, “But we want to see the actual text because we don’t want any confusion and misunderstandings.”

Progressives were meeting on Capitol Hill with Speaker Pelosi to review the details of Biden’s agreement.

Source: Al Jazeera