Biden trying to unite Democrats to approve big infrastructure plans
Washington, Jul 14 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Wednesday went to the US Capitol to try and unite Democrats around two bills for a total of more than $4 trillion in spending seeking to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, combat climate change and improve the healthcare system.
The president and the 50 Democratic senators met behind closed doors for a lunch meeting around a large dining table to discuss the spending plans.
Upon leaving the meeting, Biden refused to respond to questions from reporters about the legislative proposals, remarking only that he had no comment but adding that wanted to say “It’s great to be home, it’s great to be back with all my colleagues, and I think we’re going to get a lot done.”
Biden, who considers Congress to be like his own home because he was a senator for 36 years before becoming vice president in 2009 under Barack Obama, went in front of television cameras along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The president made clear that his aim is for the Senate to simultaneously approve a $1.2 trillion spending bill to rebuild US highways and bridges, along with another spending package directed at improving so-called “human infrastructure” with improved social programs.
Biden has managed to get a small group of Republican lawmakers to support the physical infrastructure plan but there appears to be no GOP support for increasing spending on social programs.
Thus, Biden divided the overall spending package into two separate plans with the goal of getting his party to approve the more social portion of the agenda via a legislative formula known as reconciliation that allows the Senate to approve a bill with a simple majority of 50 votes instead of the 60 that would normally be required.
Democrats hold just 50 seats in the upper house – but have a tie-breaking veto in the person of Vice President Kamala Harris – and cannot afford to lose a single vote on this matter, and thus the challenge is to unite the more progressive and moderate wings of the party behind the measure.
On Tuesday night, after weeks of negotiations, Schumer announced that Democratic lawmakers had arrived at a preliminary agreement on a $3.5 trillion spending package to combat poverty, climate change and to expand Medicare, the healthcare coverage program for people over age 65.
Many details of the proposal still have not been made public but the more progressive wing of the party has made clear that it must include measures to improve Internet access, reduce the price of medications and provide free meals to all children attending public schools.
In remarks to MSNBC, Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez revealed that the package will include $120 billion for, among other things, legalizing the immigration status of millions of undocumented migrants living in the US.
That measure is important, Menendez said, because it opens up the possibility for some kind of immigration reform, although the process is in its initial phase and the numbers could change.
The senator from New Jersey did not specify which groups of migrants will be able to move toward acquiring US citizenship.
However, Democrats have already said that their priority would be to include undocumented immigrants who have been considered essential workers during the pandemic, those benefitting from Temporary Protected Status and those known as “Dreamers” who have benefitted from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by Obama to shield them from deportation.