In budget turning point, Biden conceding smaller price tag
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ push for a 10-year, $3.5 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives has reached a turning point, with the president repeatedly conceding that the measure will be considerably smaller and pivotal lawmakers flashing potential signs of flexibility. In virtual meetings with small groups of House Democrats on Monday and Tuesday, Biden stated that he expected the final legislation to weigh between $1.9 trillion-$2.3 trillion. This was according to a Democrat who attended the sessions Tuesday. 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,
Biden used the same figures at a Friday meeting at the Capitol. This person was also a Democrat who was present. Both Democrats will not disclose the details of the meetings without their consent.
There has not been a final figure agreed upon and many other questions remain. There is still much to be done.
Biden has repeatedly admitted that the crown jewel in his domestic agenda must shrink and provided a range of costs to help him push his party past months of stalemate. He wants to refocus bargainers to fix needed policy and fiscal decisions.
“I want everyone to agree on a package,” Biden said Tuesday to reporters in Howell, Michigan. He was there to build support for his plan .. It’s not going be $3.5 trillion. It won’t be $3.5 trillion.
When asked if there would any “means testing” or income limits for those who would be eligible for the initiatives, Biden replied, “Yes.” Moderates have also suggested that such restrictions could be imposed on certain programs.
The social and environment bill is at the core of Biden’s push to increase federal efforts to aid 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 offer free prekindergarten and community college. In a nod to his party’s progressive instincts, it would be largely paid for by increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporate America.
Sens. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin, D.W.Va. have insisted that the bill’s costs be reduced and are their party’s most prominent holdouts. Manchin insists on keeping the package at $1.5 trillion, and has stated that he would like to means-test some programs. Democratic leaders will need every vote in the 50-50 Senate and all but three in the House for victory.
Manchin indicated a possible give-and take on Tuesday when asked if he would oppose a price label in the Biden 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.
Also, progressive Rep. Pramila Jaipal (D-Wash.) stated during Monday’s virtual meeting to Biden that she wants $2.5 trillion to $2.9 billion, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Jayapal leads the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.
As Democrats make painful decisions about scaling down the measure, they are battling over whether to finance as many initiatives as possible but for less than 10 years, or to pick out top priorities and fund them robustly.
Some big housing increases may have to be cut. The proposed Medicare dental benefits that are so expensive might need to be reduced. A proposal to extend a larger children’s tax credit could be extended only temporarily, potentially threatening a future Congress from extending them.
This 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 buy health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Biden has recalculated his plan’s cost. This was accompanied by 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 Washington last week with Manchins and Sinema.
Top Democrats are now hoping to craft an agreement they can push through Congress by Oct. 31, along with a companion $1 trillion measure financing highway, internet and other infrastructure projects.
Leaders had to give up on long-held hopes of passing these measures last week due to divisions between moderates and progressives.
Their divisions remain despite Biden’s unusual visit to the House Democrats Friday in an attempt to unify his party. Pelosi pulled out of a vote on the Senate approved infrastructure bill. This bill is highly coveted by moderates, but progressives hold them hostage to force them back the social-environment measure.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in Howell, Michigan, contributed to this report.