The push by President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats, for a 10-year package of environmental and social initiatives worth $3.5 trillion has come to a halt. While the president consistently concedes that the measure will be significantly smaller, pivotal legislators are showing potential signs of flexibility.
Biden stated that he expected the final legislation to weigh between $1.9 trillion-$2.3 trillion in virtual meetings with small groups of House Democrats Monday and Tuesday, according to a Democrat who was present at the sessions. The person claimed that Biden told them that he couldn’t do better than this, reflecting the demands of some conservative members of Congress. According to a source familiar with the meeting and a second Democrat, Biden used the same figures at a Friday meeting at the Capitol. Both Democrats agreed to keep the meeting confidential and would not reveal their identities.
There is no final agreement and there are many other questions, as well as the possibility of failure. The most important unresolved issues include how to get every Democrat in Congress voting for a measure that they have spent months fighting for and that Republicans will fiercely oppose. Also, whether it would be possible to reduce the price tag by dropping some proposals or keeping most of them but with a lower cost or shorter duration.
Biden has repeatedly admitted that his domestic agenda’s crown jewel will need to shrink, and has provided a range of costs to help him push his party past months of infighting and to refocus his bargainers on settling the necessary fiscal policy decisions.
Biden said Tuesday that he wanted to ensure that there is a package that everyone can accept. He spoke to reporters in Howell, Michigan where he tried to build public support for his plan. It’s not going be $3.5 trillion. It will be lower than that.
Biden was asked how he would reduce $1 trillion from his original plan. He said that “My objective” is to get all the legislation passed.
When asked if “means testing” would apply to income limits for people who are eligible for the initiatives, the president replied, “Yes.” Moderates, however, have proposed such limits to some programs.
Biden’s social and environment bill is at the heart of his push to increase federal efforts to help families, and slow global warming.
It would provide paid family and medical leaves; extend tax breaks to families with children, low-income people, and people who buy health insurance; expand Medicare coverage; encourage energy companies and prod them toward cleaner fuels; and offer free pre-kindergarten or community college. It would be paid for largely by raising taxes on the rich and corporations, in keeping with his progressive party instincts.
Sens. Senators. Manchin insists on keeping the package at $1.5 trillion, and has stated that he would like to means-test some programs. For victory, Democratic leaders will need every vote from the 50-50 Senate as well as all three House members.
Manchin, in a sign of possible giving-and-taking, said Tuesday that “I’m still open to discussing other options” when asked whether he would oppose Biden’s price range. Although progressives find Manchin’s request for a $1.5 trillion ceiling unacceptable, an aide stated that the senator still wants the lower figure.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Pramila Jayapal (progressive Rep. from Washington), stated during Monday’s virtual meeting to Biden that she desired $2.5 trillion to $2.9 billion. Jayapal is the leader of the close to 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The Democrats are facing difficult decisions regarding scaling back the measure. They must decide whether to finance as many projects as possible, but for less time than 10 years, or if to prioritize top priorities and support them well.
It is possible to reduce large housing increases. The proposed Medicare dental benefits could be cut, which would make them more expensive. A proposal to extend a children’s tax credit that is more generous might not be extended for long, thereby threatening a future Congress with refusing to grant them.
The Medicare expansion also covers new coverage for vision and hearing, and is competing for funds against other proposals to expand Medicaid coverage, and to extend larger tax credits to people who purchase health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law.
Biden’s recalibration regarding his plan’s costs has been accompanied with intensified talks between the White House and congressional leaders as well as lawmakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), met late Monday at the Capitol with White House officials, including Susan Rice, who heads Biden’s Domestic Policy Council. Deese, Rice and Sinema were among the White House aides that met in the Capitol last Thursday with Manchins and Sinema.
Top Democrats now hope to reach an agreement that they can push through Congress before Oct. 31. This includes a $1 trillion companion measure funding highway, internet and other infrastructure projects.
After divisions between moderates and progressives made it impossible to pass these measures, the leaders had no choice but to give up on their long-held hopes.
Their divisions remain despite Biden’s unusual visit to the House Democrats on Friday, which was meant to unify his party. Pelosi pulled out of a vote scheduled for the Senate-approved Infrastructure bill. This bill is highly coveted by moderates, but progressives hold them hostage to force their support for the social and environmental measure.