Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images In what could be the most consequential stretch of his presidency, Joe Biden faces an autumn sprint to advance a once-in-a-generation expansion of the social safety net.
In the coming weeks, Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill will attempt to steer the president’s multi-trillion dollar economic vision through Congress and into law. With a narrow window for action, they will have almost no room for error.
If they fail, the party will face voters in 2022 with little to show for two years in control of Congress.
If successful, Democrats will deliver a legacy-defining legislative victory, echoing the New Deal under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Great Society under Lyndon Johnson.
“I believe this is a moment of potentially great change,” Biden said last week. “This is our moment to deal working people back into the economy. ”
He spoke a day after House Democrats finished shaping a mammoth piece of legislation they hope can make it through Congress. Pursuing a perilous two-track approach, they are tying a $1tn bipartisan infrastructure deal to a $3.5tn party-line package that contains Democratic policy priorities.
The infrastructure bill passed the Senate last month with unusual bipartisan support. Democrats are attempting to secure their spending package using a special process, reconciliation, which will shield it from being blocked by Senate Republicans.
Accomplishing this will require the vote of every Democrat in the 50-50 Senate and nearly every Democrat in the House. That gives each member enormous leverage.
Two Democratic senators have objected to the size of the social spending plan, which would dedicate $3.5tn over a decade to expand healthcare and childcare and combat the climate crisis. In the House, an arrangement between party moderates and progressives has been likened to “mutually assured destruction”.