Amid mounting tension in Washington, the person most likely to confound the pivotal $3.5trn spending plan designed to revive a US economy battered by Covid is not a Republican, however, but one of the US president’s fellow Democrats.
The governing party’s wafer-thin majority in the upper chamber, means that just one defection could torpedo Biden’s plans. Joe Manchin, the centrist Senator from West Virginia, could well be the man to do it.
Manchin wants the spending spree slashed in a bid to contain the federal deficit – and please his conservative-leaning state.
Other Democrats, particularly in the progressive wing of the party are furious and insist that Biden stick to his guns.
But Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, another Democrat senator on the right of the party, has now joined Manchin in calling for the spending plan to be slashed.
The US president will need all of his famous deal-making skills as he spends the week cajoling both of them.
There is much at stake. From Joe Biden down, the party has talked of the spending bill in historic terms.
The current proposal aims to expand Medicare coverage, combat climate change, offer universal nursery education and expand aid to families with children, in line with promises made during the 2020 election.
In private, Democratic figures from the left to the right of the party’s have already conceded the original sum of $3.5trn will have to be cut.
However, reports that Sinema has told Biden she wants less than $2trn in total spending, has infuriated progressive Democrats, who see reviving the economy and boosting social equality as central to their campaign pledges – and their chances of being re-elected.
To complicate matters, the stalemate over the $3.5trn social spending has led to left-leaning Democrats to say they will scupper a vote on Thursday on another key spending measure, a $1trn infrastructure bill that has already received bipartisan support.
The Biden administration’s determination to get something that can reasonably be described as a win in the spending tussle, has acquired new urgency with indications that former US president Donald Trump intends to mount a presidential campaign rerun in 2024.
The disgraced ex-president is making appearances in federal and state campaigns and re-emerged at rallies to spew his conspiracy theories.
Appearing last Saturday in Perry, Georgia, Trump promised to “make America great again” before looking ahead to the next presidential election.
In comments that will have sent shivers down the spines of Democrats and democratic Republicans, he added: “We’re not forgetting 2020. The most corrupt election in the history of our country… to be followed by an even more glorious victory in November of 2024.”
Another, more immediate worry for Joe Biden, however, is the looming possibility that if Congress isn’t able to get around Republican opposition to revising borrowing limits by the end of this week, then the US will default on debt payments by the middle of next month – sending the US and world economies over a cliff.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already pleaded with Congress to act.
“It would be utterly unprecedented in American history for the US government to default on its legal obligations,” she said.
“Unprecedented” is a term that’s used a lot to describe events in Washington these days.
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