Biden’s social agenda advances as US House passes budget plan

Ambitious proposals to expand childcare, shift the US to clean energy, other social programmes depend on Democratic unity.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Democratic legislators to resolve differences over massive budget and infrastructure legislation pending before the US House of Representatives [Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]

Democratic leaders in the United States House of Representatives have passed a $3.5 trillion budget plan to include key parts of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda after resolving divisions between centrists and progressives within their party.

With Tuesday’s vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi notched a victory with quick approval of the budget outline.

The bill enables legislators to begin filling in details on a sweeping package that would boost spending on childcare, clean energy, education and other social programmes in addition to tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

“For far too long, the deck has been stacked for the wealthy and well-connected while middle-class hardworking families and the vulnerable have been left far behind,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat.

“We have an opportunity today to make history to deliver on the promises we made to the American people, to build a stronger, fairer future for our kids, a once in a lifetime moment, creating more jobs, cutting middle-class taxes,” DeLauro said in remarks to the House.

Legislators voted 220-212 to approve the budget plan after returning to Washington, DC for a rare vote during their annual August recess. Every Republican opposed the measure which they called a recipe for unpaid-for programmes, more federal debt, and taxes.

“They call it the ‘for the children act’. They should call it the ‘mountains of debt for the children act’ because that’s what it does,” said Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican.

Democrats met behind closed doors on Tuesday to plot a course of action after an internal debate about how to proceed threatened to derail the vote.

The delay pointed to possible trouble ahead for Biden’s fellow Democrats, who have little room for error as they only hold razor-thin majorities in the House and the Senate.

Centrist Democrats, led by Representative Josh Gottheimer, had initially refused to go along, saying the House must first pass another Biden priority: a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill that won approval by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

With the budget vote, Pelosi issued a statement thanking Gottheimer and the moderate Democrats for their support and pledging she would bring the infrastructure bill to the House for a vote by September 27.

Among many other provisions, the infrastructure bill includes $65b to modernise the US power grid, $7.5bn for electric vehicle charging stations, and $5bn to buy electric and hybrid vehicles for the government.

Liberals, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have said they would not support the infrastructure package without the larger budget measure passed on Tuesday that includes sweeping climate measures and social programmes, fearing they would lose leverage.

Voting rights bill

Democrats were also poised to pass legislation on Tuesday that would strengthen a landmark US voting law weakened by the US Supreme Court over the past decade, a step party leaders tout as progress in their quest to fight back against election restrictions advanced in Republican-led states.

But the bill, which is part of a broader Democratic effort to enact a sweeping overhaul of elections, faces dim prospects in the US Senate. Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome opposition from Republicans, who have rejected the bill as “unnecessary” and a Democratic “power grab”.

Their opposition leaves Democrats with a slim chance of passing any voting legislation because of a Senate bottleneck before the mid-term elections in 2022, when some Democrats fear new Republican laws will make it harder for many Americans to vote.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies