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Biden tries to heal Democrats’ divide on his spending plans

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US President Joe Biden meets with Democrats to try and overcome divides on his spending plans./AFP
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Sep 23, 2021 - 03:38 AM

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden met Wednesday with the warring wings of his Democratic Party in an effort to save his troubled economic plans.

The White House said in a statement Biden held three “productive and candid” meetings with two dozen members of Congress, as he dives in to try and settle an internal party squabble threatening to sink his ambitious social spending and infrastructure agenda.

One meeting featured the two most powerful Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Both are close Biden allies but are struggling to get their ranks in line behind the economic plans.

Biden then met with a group of moderate Democrats, including senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have got cold feet about the huge price tag.

Pointedly, the president then met separately with Congress members on the left of the party, such as Senator Bernie Sanders. There was apparently no plan to bring the two sides around the same table.

“This is an important moment. We’re in a pivotal period of our negotiations and discussions,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “He sees his role as uniting and bringing people together.”

Biden and the leftist legislators back quick passage of a $3.5 trillion package addressing climate change, child care and education. The vast proposals would fundamentally improve the lives of ordinary Americans left behind in an increasingly unequal economy, Biden says.

However, Manchin is among those calling the price too high, instead backing something far less than half the total.

Republicans are in no mood to help on the social spending plan, although they could vote for a separate smaller bill funding transport and other traditional infrastructure.

With the Democrats having only a razor-thin majority in Congress, the disunity threatens to bring down the entire agenda, sucking the energy out of Biden’s presidency.

“There are many Americans who have lost faith in their government’s ability to pay attention to their needs,” Sanders tweeted after his meeting. “Are we going to prove their disillusionment right?”

But Biden is “encouraged” that the pace of talks is picking up and ready to compromise, Psaki said.

He has “always been open to negotiations and discussions and knew he was not going to be able to wave a magic wand.”

Pelosi, speaking after her meeting with the president, said the bill was “on schedule.”

“We are calm and everybody’s good and our work is almost done,” she told reporters.

However, the clock is also running out as Congress simultaneously squabbles on a vote to increase the government’s borrowing limit, an impasse that could trigger a US debt default and deliver a bad shock to markets.

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