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US President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House September 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. — Getty Images via AFP
US President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House September 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. — Getty Images via AFP

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WASHINGTON, Sept 16 — Joe Biden will promote his mammoth middle class spending plan in a White House speech today, with trillions of dollars in Congress and perhaps the fate of his presidency itself in play.

The White House said Biden will argue for “levelling the playing field in our economy to bring down costs and ensure that the backbone of the country, the middle class, can finally get a break.”

The Democrat is banking on this message of fairness to get him across the finish line in Congress, where his party holds a razor thin majority over a Republican opposition showing no desire to compromise.

Nicknamed by allies “Middle Class Joe,” Biden has made the bid to spend US$3.5 trillion on education, child care and climate crisis issues the centrepiece of his domestic agenda.

This would come on top of an approximately US$1 trillion spending plan on infrastructure, like roads and bridges, that Republicans have agreed to support — an extremely rare case of bipartisanship that Biden also hopes to use as proof of his claims to have tried to unite the country.

Hammered at home and abroad over the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, where he ended America’s lost 20 year war against the Taliban, Biden is keen to pivot to domestic issues and hand Democrats a major victory ahead of next year’s congressional elections.

A big domestic win would also help resuscitate his own presidency, which after a strong start looks increasingly bogged down by the Afghanistan fallout, a complicated economic recovery after Covid shutdowns, and a resurgence of the pandemic thanks to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

With an average approval rating of 46 per cent, according to FiveThirtyEight, Biden is one of the most unpopular presidents at this point in the first term in modern history — even if he is way ahead of where Donald Trump was at the same mark with 38.8 per cent approval.

Hard bargaining

Biden says his “Build Back Better” plan will tilt the economy in favour of ordinary Americans after years of growing wealth gaps and a fraying of basic social services like education.

His speech will outline “the big choice facing America at this moment,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.

“Are we going to continue with an economy that benefits the wealthy and big corporations or are we going to set the country on a path that benefits working people?”

It’s a message with broad appeal, but Democrats are squabbling over how far to push it, with many content with the US$3.5 trillion price tag, leftist leaders wanting even more, and some moderates insisting on less than half.

With Democrats unable to afford losing a single vote in the 50-50 Senate and little more than that in the almost equally tight House of Representatives, Biden’s entire agenda hangs in the balance.

The key Senate votes are Democratic moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have cold feet about the higher price.

Under pressure from his party to become more personally involved, Biden met privately with both Sinema and Manchin at the White House on Wednesday.

The administration today also touted a letter of support signed by 15 Nobel economics prize winners who say his social spending plan will promote “success in the 21st century.”

However, Republicans are playing hardball.

They not only refuse to countenance the multi-trillion-dollar package but sense a chance to deal the Biden presidency a severe blow ahead of next year’s polls, when they hope to take control of Congress.

In addition to trying to block the big spending package — while agreeing to the smaller, hugely popular infrastructure bill — Republicans are threatening to cause havoc by blocking approval of an increase to the national debt.

For years this has been largely a technicality and Republicans agreed to relax borrowing restrictions repeatedly when Trump was president.

Refusing to vote for it in the coming weeks will force the Democrats to scramble to find ways to avoid a funding crisis that could trigger a US default and plunge the economy into serious turmoil. — AFP

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