Biden's lustre dims as stumbles, Congress' sniping take toll

Published : 29 Sep 2021 09:35 PM | Updated : 30 Sep 2021 03:59 PM

The weekly trip to the grocery store keeps getting more expensive. Petrol prices are rising and winter heating bills look ominous. Supply chain problems loom over the holidays. Covid-19 rages on.

Forests are burning in the west and people are drowning in basement apartments in the east.

How is Washington responding? Democratic progressives and moderates are sniping at each other over how big to go with a sprawling, multi-trillion-dollar economic plan.

United States President Joe Biden and his public health advisers cannot agree on who should get booster shots. And Uncle Sam is threatening to default on his debts.

Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democratic move in the Senate to raise the debt limit for the second time in as many days.

Across the Capitol, House progressives lined up to defy Speaker Nancy Pelosi by opposing a bipartisan infrastructure Bill scheduled for a vote on Thursday, potentially endangering Mr Biden's economic agenda.

To cap off the day, the stock market's benchmark S&P 500 closed 2 per cent lower, its worst slide since May. The longer the deadlock drags on, the greater the risk a narrative of a broken nation and hapless president takes hold.

Mr Biden, despite plenty of closed-door meetings and phone calls, has been largely absent from the public battle over his own economic plan.

Mr Biden and congressional Democrats have a plausible, even likely path past a perilous political moment.

In Congress, the shouting often gets loudest right before the deal, and no one is better at closing than Ms Pelosi.

Wall Street's smart money is unfazed in its confidence in US creditworthiness. And the prospect vaccines may be expanded within weeks to millions more children could tamp down the pandemic, or at least the worries keeping many parents home from work and weakening the economic rebound.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats are seeking a vote on a stopgap funding Bill to avert a government shutdown after the Sept 30 end of the federal fiscal year, though without a provision to increase the federal debt limit.

The White House dismisses any notion that Mr Biden is a bystander in the dramas.

Press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to meetings he had on Tuesday with moderate Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and said his senior aides completed more than 260 "engagements" with lawmakers on the economic agenda.

Late on Tuesday, he cancelled a planned Wednesday trip to Chicago to focus on lobbying lawmakers.

"The President is just looking to unite the party to get across the finish line," Ms Psaki said.

But Mr Biden already has taken damage.

His job approval in the Gallup poll is down 13 points since June, setting a new low of 43 per cent in a survey ended Sept 17, as he fails to show the public the competence that helped distinguish him from his erratic predecessor.

At the same time, US consumer confidence dropped in September for a third straight month, suggesting concerns over the Delta variant of the virus, and higher prices continue to dampen sentiment.

The economy is showing signs of a sharp slowdown over the past six weeks, with the Atlanta Federal Reserve's GDPNow estimate of economic growth based on real-time data dropping from a 6.2 per cent annual pace in late August to 3.2 per cent as at Monday.

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