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FirstFT: Key Democrat rejects Biden’s spending bill


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US president Joe Biden suffered a blow to his efforts to pass his signature $1.75tn social spending bill when Joe Manchin, the pivotal Democratic senator from West Virginia, explicitly rejected the package.

“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there,” Manchin said on Fox News on Sunday, after weeks of intense negotiations with the White House and Democratic congressional leaders. “This is a no.”

Biden conceded last week that the talks on the legislation — which commits to making large investments in childcare, education and the fight against climate change — could drag on for weeks, although he added that he still expected to “bridge our differences” with Manchin eventually.

However, Manchin’s remarks suggested that the West Virginia senator would either crush the bill by opposing it completely, or was looking for much more fundamental changes and a shrinking of the legislation.

Are you in favour of the US social spending bill? Email me at Thank you for reading FirstFT Asia. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Emily

1. Hong Kong awaits election results Turnout at Hong Kong’s first Legislative Council poll since its electoral overhaul hit a record low yesterday at just 30.2 per cent. Ballot counting is expected to continue into the morning today. KPMG was one of several big businesses in Hong Kong that encouraged staff to vote in what the government billed as a “patriots-only” election. (SCMP, FT)

2. Taiwan voters back government on US pork referendum Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen scored a political victory over the weekend as four referendums backed by the opposition against key policies of her government including allowing US pork imports failed to pass.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen emerged unscathed by a referendum that threatened to set back the country’s relationship with Washington © Bloomberg

3. Brussels urges reset in EU-UK relations Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has called for a strategic partnership with the UK to tackle key issues including climate change and European security, saying that a resolution of the dispute over Northern Ireland would “re-establish political trust”. 

4. Pakistan seeks to calm protesters at Belt and Road port project Pakistan’s government has sought to defuse tensions linked to one of China’s showcase Belt and Road investments in the country, striking a deal with protesters who for weeks have demonstrated in the port city of Gwadar.

5. EU to work with allies on possible Russia sanctions EU leaders agreed to co-ordinate with allies over sanctions in the event of an invasion of Ukraine and charged bloc officials with preparing measures that could include cutting Russian banks off from the international Swift network.

Coronavirus digest

  • European countries are tightening restrictions to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant after the Netherlands reimposed a strict nationwide lockdown.

  • President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser warned of mounting “stress” on US hospitals as new coronavirus cases tied to the Omicron variant start “raging”. 

  • UK health secretary Sajid Javid has failed to rule out tighter Covid-19 restrictions in England before Christmas.

  • The Bank of Japan will scale back its emergency economic support programme, tapering its corporate debt purchases to pre-pandemic levels.

  • After weeks of accusations of sleaze and reports of Covid rule-breaking parties, UK prime minister Boris Johnson suffered a huge blow after his Conservative party lost a parliamentary seat it has held for 200 years.

The day ahead

China reviews loan prime rates The People’s Bank of China is set to review its loan prime rates, the de facto benchmark for new loans. Traders and economists predicted the rate will probably be cut, according to a Reuters poll. (Reuters)

What else we’re reading and listening to

How China’s global ambitions almost unseated an IMF chief Beijing has an unusual strategy to influence the multilateral bodies that underpin western capitalism, including the IMF and World Bank. Distinctively, China pursues its ambitions by using its unusual dual status as both a developing economy and a superpower.

What’s your financial New Year’s resolution? 2021, like 2020, was another turbulent year for most people’s finances, but the new year provides the perfect opportunity to set some goals. On this week’s Money Clinic podcast, Claer talks to a millennial couple looking for some “fin-spiration” to get their money to work harder.

Afghanistan on the brink of famine Millions are facing starvation as the country slides into what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. The crisis has been brewing for years: decades of fighting disrupted harvests and displaced rural communities and successive droughts have jeopardised food supplies.

Babies receiving treatment for malnutrition at a Doctors Without Borders nutrition centre in Herat
Babies receiving treatment for malnutrition at a Médecins Sans Frontières nutrition centre in Herat © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty

The lessons for the US from China’s ‘common prosperity’ push There are rightful doubts about whether an authoritarian government with a dicey human rights record, a history of debt-fuelled growth and a ruling class with its own vested interests can implement better policies. But China’s focus on quality over quantity in terms of growth is a lesson the US can learn from, writes Rana Foroohar.

From IT sales to calling the shots in crypto land Tether’s rapid rise at the heart of the cryptocurrency industry has turned the spotlight on its publicity-shy chief executive Jean-Louis van der Velde and, in particular, his links to a Shenzhen-based company that makes products such as television receivers and amplifiers.

Life & Arts

How to give the perfect Christmas present The festive season used to be a riotous public bacchanal, more like Halloween. After two centuries of commercialisation, it seems pointless to resist the tradition. But we can at least aspire to become better gift givers. Tim Harford has some tips.

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