Biden’s Landmark Legislation Faces Tough Road to Passage

U.S. President Joe Biden faces opposition from within his own party in Congress to pass his signature Build Back Better legislation. The $3.5 trillion package would dramatically expand child care, health care and clean energy in America. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports.

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US Congress Approves Stopgap Funding to Keep Government Open

The House and Senate voted Thursday afternoon in favor of stopgap legislation to keep the government funded until December 3, avoiding a midnight shutdown. 

The Senate vote was 65-35, which was followed by a House vote of 254-175. President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law Thursday night at the White House.

The legislation maintains current funding levels across government agencies. It also includes $28.6 billion for states suffering from hurricane and wildfire damage, and $6.3 billion to help relocate Afghan refugees moving to the United States after Washington ended its two-decade war in Afghanistan last month. 

Avoiding a shutdown was just one item on a busy congressional agenda. 

The House was also set Thursday to vote on a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan to repair the country’s aging roads and bridges and expand broadband internet service throughout the U.S.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planned to go ahead with the vote, even though some progressive Democrats promised to vote against it unless they received assurances that political moderates in their party and two key centrist senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, would also support a separate $3.5 trillion measure to greatly expand the country’s social safety net programs.

“We’re on the path to winning the vote” on the infrastructure plan, Pelosi told reporters Thursday morning. The Senate has already approved the bipartisan legislation.

Senate Republicans earlier this week blocked passage of another measure to avert the possible partial government shutdown because it also included a provision to suspend the country’s long-term debt limit, which they are trying to force Democrats to adopt on their own without Republican support.

But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would support a measure that deals only with the funding package to keep the government open into the new fiscal year that starts Friday.

There have been 21 partial U.S. government shutdowns since 1976, including three during the single four-year White House term of President Donald Trump.

By law, U.S. government agencies must have congressionally authorized funding to operate. Shutdowns have usually occurred when Congress and the White House cannot agree on funding levels for specific operations or whether the programs in question deserve to be funded at all.

Without funding during the shutdowns, many government operations have been halted, such as pension payments to older Americans, the processing of income tax refunds and accessibility to national parks. National security operations, however, have been deemed essential, and workers have stayed on the job even though their paychecks might be delayed.

Additionally, Pelosi told Democratic colleagues the House would vote soon on suspending the national government’s debt limit.

Even if the House passes the legislation, though, its fate in the politically divided Senate, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, is uncertain.

Senate Republicans already twice this week have rejected efforts to suspend the debt limit, saying it is an effort by opposition Democrats to clear the path for the massive new spending plan to expand social safety net programs, the most since the 1960s.

Republicans uniformly oppose the Democratic proposals championed by Biden.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told congressional leaders on Tuesday that the government would likely run out of money to pay its bills by October 18 if Congress did not suspend the debt limit or raise it substantially beyond its current $28.4 trillion total.

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New Satellite Monitors Rapidly Changing Earth

A newly launched satellite gives researchers near-real-time clues about climate conditions on Earth. Plus, a look at this week’s spaceflight history, and a slightly more affordable way to experience weightlessness. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

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Ivory Coast Enlists New Tool Against Counterfeit Medicines

In Ivory Coast, there’s a new tool in the fight against counterfeit pharmaceuticals. A start-up company now helps pharmacies digitally trace the sale of drugs to their customers. Yassin Ciyow has more in this report narrated by Lionel Gahima.

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New Holographic Technology Provides Transportive Experience

A company in suburban Washington, D.C., is using cutting-edge technology to create lifelike video avatars to drop into music and training videos, games and other immersive environments. It’s an entry point to the so-called metaverse, as VOA’s Arzouma Kompaoré discovered while touring Avatar Dimension’s new studio.

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Australian State Blames Illegal Parties For COVID-19 Surge

COVID-19 infections have hit a new record in the Australian state of Victoria. Authorities blame rule-breakers for the latest surge in cases.

More than 1,400 new daily locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were reported in Victoria Thursday. Five more people have died.

The numbers have soared despite some of Australia’s strictest stay-at-home orders. Melbourne, the Victorian state capital, has become the third-most locked-down city in the world according to the city’s mayor. Residents have endured more than 235 days of lockdown since the pandemic began. Household visits are banned.

Victorian authorities have said illegal gatherings and house parties over a public holiday long weekend the last weekend in September were behind the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the state. Officials also said many people had ignored lockdown directives to be with friends and family to watch the Australian Rules Football grand final on television, one of the country’s most popular sporting events.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said when rules are broken, infections increase.

“They go up faster, of course, if people do not follow the rules,” he said. “They go up faster if people are out visiting each other in their homes. That is not a sense of blame. If people continue to visit each other in their homes, they will bring the virus with them, they will spread the virus. Many of these cases were completely avoidable.”

A recently discovered delta variant cluster is causing concern in Queensland state, while 941 new infections and six deaths were reported Thursday in neighboring New South Wales.

Millions of Australians remain in lockdown in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and other parts of eastern Australia.

Despite a surge in cases, authorities are pressing ahead with plans to ease lockdowns as vaccination rates increase.

In New South Wales, lockdown restrictions will end for fully immunized residents when rates hit 70%. They currently stand at 64%.

Federal authorities have said Australia’s international borders, which have been closed to most foreign nationals since March 2020, should reopen by Christmas.

A total of 102,700 coronavirus cases have been detected in Australia since the pandemic began, 1,278 people have died. 

 

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