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President Joe Biden on Thursday warned that America risks falling further behind other countries in global competitiveness if Congress fails to enact his $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better Act” framework into law.
“Today I’m pleased to announce after months of tough and thoughtful negotiations ... we have an historic economic framework... that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, put us on a path not only to compete but to win the economic competition for the 21st century against China and every other major country in the world,” Mr Biden said, speaking from the East Room of the White House after retuning from a meeting with the Democratic lawmakers who will vote on the package.
Mr Biden said the US faces an “inflection point” due to years of failure to sufficiently invest in American infrastructure and the American people.
“America is still the largest economy in the world. We still own the most productive workers and most innovative minds in the world, but we risk losing our edge as a nation,” he said. “We can’t be competitive in the 21st century global economy if we continue to slide”.
The president noted that the US once led the world in infrastructure and educational achievement, but now ranks far lower than it did because of the effects of “trickle-down economics”.
The “Build Back Better” framework unveiled by the White House includes some — but not all — of the priorities identified by Mr Biden and progressives over the months since he assumed office, including a more than $500 billion investment in combatting climate change, making health care and home care for persons with disabilities more affordable, and providing childcare relief for American families.
But Mr Biden cast his proposal not as a partisan priority, but as a nonpartisan imperative.
“These are not about left versus right or moderate versus progressive or anything else that pits Americans against one another. This is about competitiveness versus complacency, competitiveness versus complacency. It’s about expanding opportunity, not opportunity to deny. It’s about leading the world,” he said, adding that the US is currently “letting the world pass us by”.
The president met with Democrats in the House on Thursday morning for more than an hour. Multiple Democrats said the president emphasized the need to pass the bipartisan infrastructure legislation as soon as possible.
“I think we ought to honor and acknowledge what it was he asked for,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts said. Mr Neal said it was up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who indicated the vote would happen on Thursday.
Rep Gerry Connolly of Virginia said Ms Pelosi wants to allow the president to go to Europe with a deal in hand but that Mr Biden did not specifically mention having the vote on Thursday.
“That’s not how he talks, that’s how she talks,” he said. “He made it very clear that his desire is to be able to disprove the Vladimir Putins of the world who say democracies can’t get anything done. We’re obsolete, we’re yesterday’s model. That we’re dysfunctional. He basically pled with us ‘help prove him wrong, give me that bill,’ with the understanding that the next bill is following and we’ve got a solid framework agreement that’s agreed to.”
But other Democrats expressed concern. Rep Cori Bush of Missouri, a member of Squad, said simply “no” when asked if she was ready to vote for the bipartisan bill. Rep Bush said before the meeting with the president that members were expecting somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $2.2 trillion.
“I need to know what my people get, I need to know what those programs look like,” she told reporters going into the meeting with Mr Biden.
Progressives have long insisted that they would not vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill without simultaneously voting for the social spending bill. Last month, a handful of moderate Democrats in the House attempted to have the vote on the bipartisan bill only to ultimately not have a vote on the bipartisan bill, essentially having the White House side with progressives.
But regardless of any remaining intra-party tensions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had nothing but praise for the plan when she addressed reporters at her weekly press conference on Thursday. She said the framework laid out by Mr Biden represents “a bigger vision than we’ve seen in a very long time,” and compared it favorably to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.
The framework’s health care provisions — which will enable Democrats to expand access to Medicaid in the GOP-led states that have chosen to not participate in the Affordable Care Act’s voluntary Medicaid expansion — would be “transformational” and “cause for celebration” on it’s own, Ms Pelosi said.
Asked how she can call the bill “transformative” absent progressive priorities such as paid leave, Ms Pelosi replied: “Because it is”.
“Families in 12 states will now have access to the Affordable Care Act...we’ll have a half a trillion dollars to save the planet...it is a values issue for us to be under our responsibility to future generations to pass this planet on in a responsible way, and the fuse is growing shorter on the timeframe for us to do that,” she said. “Matters are getting worse, and we are not going to make matters worse — we’re going to pass this legislation”.
Ms Pelosi did not say whether the House would vote on the package, but the House Rules Committee is set to take up rules for floor debate on the bill Thursday afternoon, making a vote on the Build Better Act possible as soon as Thursday evening.
The announcement that Mr Biden’s plan has major climate provisions also allows him to promote a win as he heads to Europe, where he will attend next week’s Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
White House officials say the climate plan — which includes the Civilian Climate Corps desired by progressives — will allow the US to meet the president’s target of a 50% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030.
Mr Biden touted the plan, which he called “the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that has ever happened, beyond any other advanced nation in the world”.
He added that the plan will result in “over a billion metric tons of emission reductions — at least ten times bigger on climate than any bill that has ever passed before — and will be “enough to position us for a 50% to 52% emissions reduction by the year 2030 ... in ways that grow the domestic industries, create good-paying union jobs, and address long-standing environmental injustices as well”.