In order to scale back his ambitious domestic agenda President Joe Biden presented a less detailed vision to Democratic lawmakers for his $2 trillion package that addresses climate change and expands social services.
Most likely to be cut or eliminated: Plans for tuition-free community college, path to permanent legal status in the U.S. for certain immigrants and clean energy plan that were the core of Biden’s strategy to combat climate change.
The president met with almost 20 progressive and centrist lawmakers Tuesday in private. Democrats seemed ready to drop the $3.5 trillion package that was originally proposed by them in favor of a more practical proposal that will unite the party, and help it win passage in the tightly divided Congress.
According to those who were privy to the conversation, child tax credits, paid family leaves, health care, and free prekindergarten are all still available.
Jen Psaki, press secretary for Biden, stated that Biden felt more confident after the day of meetings. She stated that “there was widespread agreement that it is urgent to move forward over the next few days and that the window for finalizing an package is closing.”
After months of fits-and-starts, Democrats are becoming anxious that they don’t have much to offer voters despite campaign promises. Biden’s ideas will be paid for by tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals who earn more than $400,000 per year.
President Obama wants to make sure his signature domestic package, which will bolster federal social service and address climate change, is in place before he leaves for the next global climate summit.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive caucus member said that Biden had urged lawmakers to “get something done” in order to demonstrate U.S. leadership on climate changes on the international stage.
Khanna stated that Khanna truly believes in American leadership and American prestige.
Biden’s key opponent, the conservative senator Joe Manchin of coal-state West Virginia has stated that he does not support the president’s Clean Energy Performance Plan. This would see the government impose sanctions on electric utilities that fail meet clean energy benchmarks, and pay financial rewards for those that do. This is in keeping with Biden’s goal to achieve 80% “clean electricity by 2030.”
Biden instead focused his Tuesday meetings on providing at minimum $500 billion in tax credits and grants to combat climate change. Much of this likely came from a package that was compiled by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Finance Committee. These include tax breaks for energy producers who achieve emission-reduction targets.
Manchin stated that he wanted to keep federal policy “fuel neutral”, meaning that it does not favor renewable energy sources over those that are more dominant in his state.
Other climate-change-fighting proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as oil and coal or a methane emissions fee — though Manchin told reporters earlier in the day that a carbon tax was not in the mix.
The U.S. would be unable to address climate change if it does not act now. Proponents of large-scale efforts claim that inaction could result in the United States losing billions of dollars in weather-related catastrophes. They also fear that it will cause millions of Americans to be displaced by hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and floods.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), another progressive member of the caucus, called Manchin’s opposition on climate issues “one the greatest challenges” and threatened to stop a final bill.
Biden and the Democrats seemed to be more open to a slimmed down package on other fronts.
Biden would rather extend the $300 monthly child credit, which was established during the COVID-19 crises, for an additional year than let it expire in December.
This policy has been highly praised for its ability to send cash to those most in need. Democrats would like to extend the credit for an additional year, but limiting its duration would reduce the cost. Single-parent households with incomes greater than $75,000 per year or $150,000 for married couples will be exempt from the credit. However, Manchin and other conservative Democrats may want to lower these income thresholds.
The federal paid family leave program, which was originally intended to last for months, could now be reduced to just four weeks.
Biden also supports funding for health programs, including money for community- and home-based services. This would support a shift away from nursing home care.
Khanna, an ally of Sanders for many years, stated that a program to provide hearing, vision, and dental benefits to Medicare beneficiaries, which was proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (an independent from Vermont), is likely to continue in some form.
New subsidies for families to help them afford child care, as well as increased subsidies that were put in place during the pandemic to assist those who have their own insurance, are expected to remain in the package.
Biden stated to lawmakers that $300 billion would remain after he had completed his top priorities. Some suggested that this money could be used for housing assistance and racial justice. Biden suggested money could be used to retrofit low-income homes.
However, Biden’s vision of a free community college for everyone is in jeopardy.
Khanna stated that “It’s certainly not the strong vision the president wants” or what she wanted.
After a long and lively lunch with Democratic senators earlier in day, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer stated that there was “universal agreement” that they had to reach an agreement.
Biden spent nearly two hours at the White House with the first group, progressive lawmakers. They felt confident that a deal was possible. The evening ended with moderate lawmakers meeting for around 90 minutes.
Manchin said, “Everybody’s talking,” after a meeting with the president on Tuesday.
Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona have been expressing concerns about the package’s scope and size for months. This has tested the patience of those who see this as a unique opportunity to reform government programs. Sinema was unable to attend the senators lunch but met separately with Biden.
Biden’s plans are being resisted by Republicans. The president must have all Democrats in the 50-50 Senate to pass his plan. He can only spare a few votes from the House.
Congress has given Oct. 31 as the deadline to pass legislation.