Monday, November 29

Biden seeks to turn the page on Afghanistan and turns to economic reforms | International


A woman walks past an employment office in Manchester, New Hampshire, last March.
A woman walks past an employment office in Manchester, New Hampshire, last March.Charles Krupa / AP

Not even the long Labor Day weekend, which falls on the first Monday in September in the United States, has given President Joe Biden a break. His ambitious reformist agenda – the $ 3.5 trillion (€ 2.9 trillion) social infrastructure plan; twin of the physical infrastructure plan already on track – it still does not convince the moderate democrats, who trip up its parliamentary process. The clouds that the delta variant of the pandemic projects on the economic recovery and the end of various unemployment benefits also do not favor the president’s intention to enhance his domestic agenda to definitively turn the page on Afghanistan.

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On Sunday, two of Biden’s most loyal squires, his chief of staff, Ron Klain, and counselor Cedric Richmond, had to face the threats of centrist senator Joe Manchin, contrary to the social package due to the foreseeable increase in the deficit. . Manchin asked for a break in the negotiation and raised doubts about the cost of the plan, due to the tax increase on the highest incomes. They both minimized Manchin’s opposition and were confident to continue rowing together, under full sail.

The optimistic forecasts of the Democratic leadership – to approve both projects before October 1 – are in the air. Democrats and Republicans tie at 50 seats in the Senate and Manchin’s vote is crucial to move forward, through the reconciliation procedure – by simple majority, with the casting vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, in turn President of the Senate. the ambitious program of social reforms, which would mean the largest expansion of social coverage in the country since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program in the 1960s. To approve it by ordinary means, filibustering by means of —which requires a majority of 60 votes—, would be mathematically impossible.

Until now, the domestic agenda had been the main asset of the Biden presidency, also the most successful: the bipartisan consensus to renovate, with 1.2 trillion dollars, the obsolete infrastructure of the country seemed to illuminate a new way of doing politics; the palpable possibility of consensus. After the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, it also seemed the appropriate refuge from the criticism of the Republicans. But differences within his own party threaten to complicate Biden’s plans. Progressives want the 3.5 trillion social package to be voted on earlier; the moderate ones, prioritize that of physical infrastructures. Combining the two will greatly complicate the agenda for both Houses, as the legislators continue on vacation until the end of September. Not even the Republicans’ attempt to convene an emergency session on the Afghan crisis last week interrupted their laziness. Thus, the two major plans will be voted on at the end of September, as well as the federal government budget; If this does not go ahead, the Administration will be forced to close on October 1.

In addition to the internal opposition and that of the Republicans, the economic situation is not favorable either. In just two months, the sustained upturn in inflation, the slowdown in job creation in August and, above all, the doubts raised by the rampant wave of the delta variant (more than 160,000 new cases and 1,500 deaths per day, in addition 100,000 hospitalized) cloud optimistic spring forecasts. To this is added that from this Monday 12 million Americans will be without some type of unemployment benefit. Today expires the extra bonus of 300 dollars a week for 3.9 million unemployed expected in the pandemic rescue plan (1.9 trillion dollars), which Congress approved in March and had been extended twice. Together, three unemployment assistance programs covered 12 million Americans, including the freelancers of the large platforms. Until this Monday.

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The Labor Day deadline was also not free, but a concession to the more moderate Democrats to vote in favor of the aid and its extensions. But nobody expected that job creation – which caused 26 states to partially or totally withdraw these subsidies at the beginning of the summer, for supposedly discouraging job search – would come to a halt in August, when the country was heading towards full employment (in July, the unemployment rate was 5.2%).

Despite his desire to turn the page, Biden will once again face the ghost of Afghanistan in commemoration on Saturday of the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Not even in a deep-rooted Democratic city like New York is Biden guaranteed a round of applause, despite the gesture toward the families of 9/11 victims to declassify secret investigative documents as his popularity rating suffers from the chaos of the Afghan withdrawal.

The less and less underground fight between the two factions of his party is not limited to legislative action, but also extends to issues such as the confirmation as head of the Federal Reserve of Jerome Powell, whose term ends in February. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Biden to prop up Powell at a key moment – the anticipated withdrawal of stimulus, the lifeline that kept the economy afloat during the pandemic – progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are opposed to Let Powell, who was appointed by Trump, repeat. Meanwhile, the veteran Bernie Sanders, leader of the progressive faction, has thrown himself into the ring, oblivious to the entrenched partisan debates, to gloss the advantages of the colossal social reform. The old politics, that of rallies and personal persuasion, to the rescue of a troubled Biden.

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