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In big win for Biden, US Congress approves $1 trillion infrastructure package. All you need to know

The big battle within the Democratic Party is, however, far from over

USA-WEATHER/TEXAS-BIDEN US President Joe Biden | Reuters

In a big win for US President Joe Biden, the United States Congress approved a $1 trillion package of road and other infrastructure projects, with the ruling Democratic Party finally resolving a months-long standoff between progressives and moderates. The legislation would create legions of jobs and improve broadband, water supplies and other public works.

Approval ratings of Biden have been dropping like a stone, even as his party was walloped by voters in this week's off-year elections. Democratic gubernatorial candidates were defeated in Virginia and squeaked through in New Jersey, two blue-leaning states. Those setbacks made party leaders and moderates and progressives alike impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. Democrats can also ill-afford to seem in disarray a year before mid-term elections that could result in Republicans regaining control of the Congress.

Democrats are keenly aware that they need to quickly pass their policy priorities or face a possible rout in the 2022 mid-term polls. Most voters in Virginia had told pollsters that drawn-out negotiations in Washington over Biden's governing agenda were an important factor in their vote.

What was holding up the infrastructure bill?

The crux of the issue was negotiations over Biden's signature 'Build Back Better' package. Progressive and centrist lawmakers, particularly Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have fought over details of the sprawling $1.75 trillion dollar package. The Democrat majority in the Congress is razor-thin; a flip of three votes is all it takes for a bill to fail. The situation is somewhat similar in the Senate as well.

The moderates and the progressives in the party have been holding each other to ransom. Manchin had refused to vote on the Build Back Better agenda, saying he is prepared to support a plan that fought inflation, and one that was fiscally responsible and created jobs. On the other hand, the progressive wing was refusing to vote on the now-passed infrastructure bill, using it as leverage to win commitments from Manchin and Sinema for Biden's broader bill. 

However, there were big breakthroughs on Friday. The centrists agreed to back the Build Back Better plan—which will go to the floor of the Congress on November 15— if Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates are consistent with preliminary numbers that White House and congressional tax analysts have provided. Manchin had always stated that the true expenditure in the bill was far higher than what was publicly bandied about. In exchange, progressives agreed to back the infrastructure measure. 

Are the skies clearing for Biden?

Not really. Looking at the numbers in the Congress, the intra-party fight in the Democratic Party is far from over. Among those who voted against the infrastructure measure in the Congress included a number of high-profile Democratic progressives like Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. All of them were adamant that the infrastructure bill should pass only after the Build Back Better plan was passed. The open show of antagonism comes amid reassurances from the progressive caucus head Pramila Jayapal that the party is united. 

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