Biden pushes to get Democrats over finish line on spending package

Washington (AFP) – Joe Biden kicks off a make-or-break week for his presidency and the Democratic Party's wider fortunes Monday with a New Jersey speech pitching his troubled domestic spending package.


Biden was to visit an elementary school and a train maintenance depot to push for a social spending bill expected to add up to a little less than $2 trillion and an infrastructure bill worth around $1.2 trillion.

As he set out from his private home in Wilmington, Delaware, where he'd spent the weekend, he told reporters he expected a deal this week. He said that talks on Sunday with one of the main obstacles to agreement, moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, "went well."

Democrats narrowly control Congress but have been feuding for weeks over the contents and scope of the social spending bill, with moderates forcing down the original $3.5 trillion price tag and left-leaning members retaliating by threatening to sink the otherwise popular infrastructure package.

The mess has left Biden scrambling to rescue his dream of emulating the great big-government presidents, like Franklin Roosevelt, and leaves Democrats at ever-growing risk of losing Congress in next year's midterm elections.

The 78-year-old president hopes for a win in the next few days, buoying his credibility as he goes to the G20 summit in Rome on the weekend, followed by next week's UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Another deadline of sorts is November 2nd, when the Democratic governors of New Jersey and especially Virginia face difficult reelections.

Popular former president Barack Obama has already campaigned in both states and Biden is set to follow Monday's New Jersey trip with a visit to Virginia on Tuesday. However, analysts say that if the Democrats in Congress fail to produce the long-delayed spending bills by then, Biden's endorsement and Democratic enthusiasm in general could fall flat, giving Republican opponents a momentum-changing victory.

Almost there?

Democratic Party leaders have been ramping up predictions of success for a week. On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "we're almost there."

However, her caveat that "just the language of it" still needed resolving did not exactly answer lingering doubts over the Democrats' ability to end their wrangling.

Some of the most complex negotiations have been over how to pay for the spending, with Biden reluctantly conceding he will need to abandon his push for higher corporate taxes. A novel tax on ultra-wealthy individuals is being discussed.

At the same time, slashing the wish list to around half of the original $3.5 trillion has triggered fierce turf battles over programs and whether to cut items out entirely or simply to provide less funding.

Among the big items that Biden has agreed to lose is his passionate drive for free community college -- an idea given impetus by his wife, Jill, who teaches English at a community college in Virginia.

However, universal pre-kindergarten and childcare subsidies are expected to survive, as well as more money for state-backed healthcare. Up in the air still is the fate of proposals for spending on climate change mitigation.