On Wednesday night, Joe Biden stopped by the congressional baseball game, an annual event where politicians from both parties supposedly put partisan differences aside and take to the field to play America’s beloved national pastime.
While the president may have been all smiles as he handed out White House-branded ice cream bars, reminders of the gravity of the challenges facing his administration this week – challenges that could derail his entire presidency – were everywhere.
When Biden’s entrance was announced over the stadium loudspeaker, Republican fans in the crowd heartily booed. Most of the Republican players on the field, in fact, had voted against certifying his presidential victory.
In one corner of the stadium, liberal activists unfurled a sign calling for trillions of dollars in new government social spending and another urging Democrats not to mess this up (although they opted for more colourful phrasing).
Meanwhile, sitting in the front row of the stands, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sat with her ear pressed against a cell phone, clearly more concerned with political strategy than the game on the field.
Pelosi, perhaps more than anyone in the stadium, appreciates what is at stake for her party this week.
Here’s a look at the issues they are competing over and the key players and factions who will decide who ends up on top.
The infrastructure bill
The $1tn (£750bn) Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, or “Bif” as it’s cheekily called, passed the US Senate last month and has been awaiting action in the House of Representatives – its last stop before the president’s desk – since then. The bill would fund roads, bridges, broadband internet, lead-pipe replacement, electric car charging stations and a host of other brick-and-mortar projects.
The ‘reconciliation’ bill
If the infrastructure bill is the current avatar for bipartisanship, the reconciliation bill – which because of parliamentary machinations only needs Democratic support – is the chance for the party to prove it can use its congressional majorities to enact its big-ticket policy priorities.
The legislation, which is still being drafted in both the House and the Senate, covers a broad array of social programmes, including early childhood education, universal preschool, government-funded two-year college education, paid family and medical leave, an expansion of government health insurance, environmental spending and tax increases on corporations and the wealth to pay for it.
The debt limit
Looming over both of these legislative priorities is the national debt limit, which the federal government will hit sometime in mid to late October. If the US Treasury wants to issue new bonds to pay for all this proposed new spending, as well as spending that has been authorised in the past few years, Congress will have to raise that limit by trillions of dollars.
If it doesn’t, the US will default – an unprecedented development that could torpedo not just the American economy but that of the entire world