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Biden pushes $1.75 trillion spending bill; progressives push back

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(C) Reuters. The U.S Capitol seen at night from Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, U.S., October 24, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger/File Photo

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By Trevor Hunnicutt and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled a $1.75 trillion economic and climate change plan that he said unified Democrats and was immediately rebuffed by members of his own party.

“We have a historic economic framework” that will create jobs and make the United States more competitive, Biden said after a last-minute trip to Congress to convince reluctant progressives to support the spending plan. He then departed for a summit of leaders from the Group of 20 countries in Italy.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to hold a vote on Thursday on a related, bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, and told lawmakers she wants the vote finished by the time Biden lands in Rome, someone briefed on the conversations said.

Key progressive Democrats poured cold water on the idea. “The House should not be voting for an infrastructure bill unless they see very clear language and know that there are 50 senators on board” for a broader spending bill, Senator Bernie Sanders said.

The situation sets up a battle of wills in Congress between moderate Democrats, who want the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed as soon as possible, and progressives in the party who will only vote for it in conjunction with the spending measure. The fight will play out in coming days without Biden, who has been heavily involved in negotiations but won’t return to the Washington until Wednesday.

In a meeting with House Democrats on Thursday, Biden pleaded for their support, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“I need you to help me; I need your votes.” Biden told them. “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate (Democratic) majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”

Biden ran for president on a promise to curb growing inequality, using education and social spending paid for by companies and the rich.

The president had hoped to reach an agreement before the Rome summit, where a global minimum tax will be high on the agenda, and a climate conference in Glasgow, where Biden hopes to present a message that the United States is back in the fight against global warming.

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive (NYSE:PGR) Caucus, said the group would need to see any text of a spending bill before promising to vote on the infrastructure legislation.

Other legislators in the 95-member caucus backed her up. “We need to keep the promise that was made. We’ve been very clear. We need to see the two bills simultaneously move together,” Representative Ilhan Omar said.

The White House said the larger spending plan framework Biden presented on Thursday would be fully paid for by repealing certain tax rebates passed under former President Donald Trump, imposing a surcharge on corporate stock buybacks and adding a surcharge on the earnings of the wealthiest Americans.

The framework includes $555 billion in spending for climate initiatives and six years of preschool funding among other top agenda items, but does not include paid family leave or a tax on billionaires.

The plan does not include some key Biden administration pledges, angering influential lobby groups and constituencies.

“We are outraged that the initial framework does not lower prescription drug prices,” the American Association of Retired Persons, an advocacy organization for the elderly, said in a statement.

The absence of paid leave, Democrats noted, leaving the United States as the only rich country and one of the few nations in the world that doesn’t provide maternity leave.

Some Republicans support the infrastructure measure but most lawmakers in that party oppose both bills, and Biden can only afford to lose three votes in the House to get either passed.

Even if a framework is adopted in coming days, as Democrats hope, Biden will arrive at the G20 leaders meeting and the U.N. Climate Change Conference without final legislation in hand even as the United States wants other countries to adopt similar initiatives.

In addition to their slight majority in the House, Democrats only narrowly control the Senate, with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote, meaning legislation must win support across a wide swath of progressives and more moderate members of the party.

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