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Biden’s new bill a ‘grab bag’ of social infrastructure

Six months into Biden's presidency, he's facing numerous challenges: a resurgence of COVID-19, mainly among the unvaccinated, a nation still highly polarized, and a battle to get both a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and a highly ambitious, democrats-only package of social programs through Congress. NewsHour Weekend special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins from Santa Barbara to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This past week marked the sixth month of President Biden's administration.

    His poll numbers give him consistently positive approval ratings, though not especially high ones, but he's facing daunting challenges: a resurgence of COVID, mainly among the unvaccinated, a nation still highly polarized, and a battle to get both a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and a highly ambitious, Democrats-only package of social programs through congress.

    Here to look at all of this is NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who joins us from Santa Barbara.

    Jeff, first of all, the past couple of weeks, to try to keep track of these different bills has been incredibly difficult, not only parsing where the support lies, but what's in which one.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Let me take a shot at this. First is the bipartisan infrastructure bill that would provide about $600 billion in new money for roads, bridges, rail, rural broadband, so-called hard infrastructure. That's the bill that a number of Republicans in principle have said they'd like to support. The other one is a much more ambitious $3.5 trillion Democrats only bill that provides for social spending from pre-K to two years of free community college, vastly expanded Medicare for dental and vision services, help for child care, help for seniors. And there's not a single Republican in the Senate who will support it. So you need every Democrat. And then Kamala Harris is the tiebreaker. So those are the two bills that are that are making their way or not through the process.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    If on the bipartisan bill, you get these 10 Republicans to sign on. Is that a done deal? Do you have the 60 plus necessary to get this thing going?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think there are more potholes than in the streets of New York, because this is the Congress you're talking about. You've got a couple of powerful Democratic senators who say if our water projects are not in this bill, we will not support it. You've got a couple of Democrats in the House who feel aggrieved that they weren't part of the negotiations and they're saying maybe we won't support it. Just this morning, Rob Portman, one of the negotiators for the Republicans, are saying, I don't think I like the level of public transit money. So there are so many ways that that infrastructure bill cannot work that nobody should assume that it's a done deal at all.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Let's talk about the big one, the $3.5 trillion one. In lots of ways, this is unprecedented. Why?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, it's always been my belief, and I think history confirms that the way Democrats have gotten big social programs, that was after they won landslide elections. Roosevelt in '32 with the New Deal, LBJ with the Great Society. In this case, you're talking about what Bernie Sanders accurately calls the biggest social program since the New Deal being passed in a 50-50 Senate. If it happens, it would be, as I say, absolutely unprecedented, but I wouldn't bet a lot on a result that winds up with nothing. You just don't know how this is going to play out.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Here we've got these two pieces of legislation, but put that in context of what we're living through now and maybe some of the consequences we haven't thought through.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, the first is COVID. If there is a resurgence of COVID, not only could it really hurt economically, but the whole sense of optimism we were seeing a month ago where out of this I think will be replaced by, oh, no, here we go again. And for an incumbent, you want an upbeat, buoyant country when the party is being judged in the midterms. The second one is this shortage of computer chips, which is worldwide and pervasive, has really put the auto industry on its uppers. You've got millions of orders literally that can't be filled and you've got thousands of workers idled. If this keeps going, that's going to have a real impact on the economy. And it is not exactly Politics 101 to say that an incumbent party facing bad economic times does not do well in the midterms.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff, there's this movement now to take a closer look at the events of January 6th. And Nancy Pelosi has essentially kept some of President Trump supporters out. And now she's saying she might let one of his detractors on the committee.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Two of the people that that Kevin McCarthy wanted on that panel are the most aggressive deniers of what happened on January 6th. And along with Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger is one of the few Republicans who voted to to impeach Donald Trump. So they may be Republicans, but this does not look like any more progress toward some kind of joint understanding, because the two parties have two very different views of this and some of those Republicans views, it was a peaceful protest and George Soros and Antifa started it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This week, we also saw several members of the Republican Party and even some members of Fox News change their messaging around vaccines. Will it work?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think it will work part way. It was really quite striking that you had what was a politically divided notion about vaccines like masks, which is really striking and unprecedented. And when you have the conservative governor of Alabama telling the non vaccinated, this is your fault, that tells you that reality may be intruding here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you.

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