Who are the key Democrats in the US Congress shutdown drama?

US Democrats find themselves in warring factions as President Biden's agenda hangs in the balance

Joe Manchin, a senator from West Virginia, speaks to reporters outside of the US Capitol in Washington. AFP
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US President Joe Biden's entire domestic agenda is on the line as he and other Democratic leaders attempt to navigate warring factions within their party.

On Thursday, the US Senate and House passed a stopgap bill to prevent a government shutdown, which Mr Biden signed on Thursday evening. Still, that only avoids one crisis he and his party are facing.

That leaves three more to solve: passing his $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill, passing his $3.5tn reconciliation bill and raising the debt ceiling. Failing to do the first two would leave a major stain on his legacy. Failing to accomplish the third would be a catastrophe.

But even with a majority in both chambers of the US Congress, Democrats are struggling to accomplish this.

Here are the key players to keep an eye on as the drama unfolds:

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema

Mr Biden's $3.5tn reconciliation bill would fund everything from universal prekindergarten to sweeping climate change programmes. Though Senate Republicans are adamant they will not vote for the piece of legislation, Democrats, the majority, could still pass the bill if everyone in their party, plus Vice President Kamala Harris, votes in favour.

But moderate senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are proving to be major stumbling blocks.

First elected in 2010, Mr Manchin represents the state of West Virginia, which has an overall population of less than two million residents. In his 2018 re-election bid, he defeated Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey by less than 20,000 votes.

What is a US government shutdown?

What is a US government shutdown?

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Manchin voiced his disapproval over the price tag attached to the reconciliation bill.

“Proposing a historic expansion of social programmes while ignoring the fact we are not in a recession and that millions of jobs remain open will only feed a dysfunction that could weaken our economic recovery,” he said.

Mr Manchin's proposed cost of the package is $1.5tn, which he confirmed to reporters on Thursday. This leaves a considerable price gap between him and his more left-leaning Democratic colleagues.

“I've never been a liberal in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Freshman Arizona Senator Krysten Simena, who edged out her 2018 opponent by about 3 per cent, has seen her approval numbers plummet. She also voiced her opposition to the $3.5tn package, though she has not yet publicly confirmed a price she would be comfortable with.

When asked by reporters where she stood on her vote, Ms Sinema laughed and said, "I'm clearly in front of the elevator" as she dodged reporters.

For perspective, West Virginia carries five electoral college votes into the presidential election and Arizona comes in at 11, while states like California and New York have 55 and 29, respectively.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Progressives

Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema's reluctance towards the reconciliation bill has angered Progressive Democrats in the US House of Representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

This group of roughly 50 members are threatening to oppose the $1.1tn bipartisan infrastructure package unless the reconciliation bill is passed at the same time. This is because they want commitment from the Biden administration that the larger bill will pass as it contains sweeping social programme policy changes like childcare and climate change initiatives.

House progressives have defended their stance, saying their agenda is in line with Mr Biden's economic agenda.

“We are not in the business of wasting this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver on the promises that we have made in childcare, in health care, in addressing our climate infrastructure and addressing our standard infrastructure as well,” said Ilhan Omar, a progressive congresswoman from Minnesota.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez recently lambasted Mr Manchin over his record on climate change after he refused to support the $3.5tn spending bill, accusing him of "'bipartisan' corruption that masquerades as clear-eyed moderation".

Nancy Pelosi

This infighting puts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a precarious position as she had been pressing forward for a Thursday vote on the infrastructure bill.

“We’re on a path to win the vote,” she said at a news conference. “I don’t want to even consider any other options than that.”

Without support from progressives, the bill will fail.

Ms Pelosi added that the reconciliation bill “was a culmination” of her service in Congress.

Ms Pelosi was forced to delay Thursday's planned vote after more than half of the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - which represents the most left-leaning faction of Democrats - followed through on their promise not to vote on the infrastructure bill without first passing the reconciliation bill.

Still, she remains adamant that a vote will happen.

“There’ll be a vote today,” Ms Pelosi said as she departed the Capitol after midnight on Friday.

Joe Biden

For months, Mr Biden has spoken about the need for Congress to pass both these bills, pointing to recent extreme weather events in the US as evidence that the country must invest more in infrastructure to fight climate change.

America's dilapidated infrastructure: The Brent Spence Bridge

America's dilapidated infrastructure: The Brent Spence Bridge

Mr Biden, a former senator, framed himself as a politician with the proper understanding of the workings of Congress to reach across the aisle to accomplish his agenda.

For his part, Mr Biden has met regularly with Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema to negotiate on the reconciliation deal, but no solution has yet been presented.

Failure to pass his economic agenda while his party controls both chambers of Congress would be a crushing loss for the president and many would argue, the American people.

Updated: October 01, 2021, 2:14 PM