President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats push for a 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion social and environmental initiative package has reached a tipping point, with the President repeatedly admitting that the measure will be considerably smaller and key lawmakers will show possible signs of flexibility.
In virtual meetings Monday and Tuesday with small groups of House Democrats, Biden said he grudgingly expected the final version of the legislation to weigh between $ 1.9 trillion and $ 2.3 trillion, said a Democrat familiar with sessions on Tuesday. He told them he didn’t think he could do better than that, the person said, reflecting the demands of some of the party’s most conservative lawmakers.
Biden used those same figures during a Friday meeting on Capitol Hill with nearly all House Democrats, according to that person and a second Democrat familiar with the meeting. Both Democrats would describe the meetings only on condition of anonymity.
There has been no agreement on a final figure, and many other questions remain unanswered, in addition to the possibility of failure. Crucial unresolved issues include how to get virtually all Democrats in Congress to vote for a measure that they have spent months fighting for and that Republicans will strongly oppose, and whether the reduced price would be achieved by scrapping some proposals or keeping the majority, but in lower cost or shorter duration.
But by repeatedly admitting that the jewel in the crown of his own domestic agenda will have to shrink and provide a range for its cost, Biden is trying to push his party past months of stalemate and refocus negotiators on concrete policies and the necessary tax decisions.
“I want to make sure we have a package that everyone can agree on,” Biden told reporters Tuesday in Howell, Michigan, where he went to try to build public support for his plan. “It won’t be $ 3.5 trillion. It’s going to be less than that. ”
When asked how he would cut $ 1 trillion from his initial plan, Biden said, “My goal is to get everything I did in my campaign approved,” adding, “It won’t all happen all at once.” That seemed to suggest that some initiatives in the bill might not start right away or might last only temporarily to save money.
When asked if there would be “resource tests” or limits on the income of people who would qualify for the initiatives, the president said, “Sure.” Some moderates have wanted to impose such limits on some programs.
The social and environmental bill is at the heart of Biden’s drive to bolster federal efforts to help families and slow global warming.
It would require paid family and medical leave; expanding tax breaks for families with children, low-income people, and people who buy health insurance; expand Medicare coverage; Encourage energy companies to move toward cleaner fuels and provide free pre-kindergarten and community college. In a nod to his party’s progressive instincts, it would pay off largely by raising taxes on wealthy, corporate America.
Senators Joe Manchin DW.Va., and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Have insisted on reducing the cost of the bill and have been the most important in their party. Manchin has insisted on keeping the package at $ 1.5 trillion and has said he wants to test some programs. Democratic leaders will need every vote in the Senate 50-50 and all but three in the House for victory.
In an indication of a possible give and take, Manchin said Tuesday, “I’m not ruling anything out,” when asked if he would definitely object to a price tag in Biden’s range. Progressives find Manchin’s demand for a $ 1.5 trillion cap unacceptable, although an aide said the senator still wants the lower figure.
Also, progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, said during Monday’s virtual meeting with Biden that she wanted between $ 2.5 trillion and $ 2.9 trillion, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Jayapal leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus of nearly 100 members.
As Democrats make painful decisions about reducing the measure, they are scrambling over whether to fund as many initiatives as possible, but for less than 10 years, or to pick top priorities and fund them solidly.
Proposed large increases in housing can be cut back. Costly Medicare-proposed dental benefits may need to be lowered. And a proposed extension of a more generous child tax credit could be temporary, effectively challenging a future Congress to refuse to extend them.
That Medicare expansion, which also includes new coverage for hearing and vision, is competing for money with other proposals to expand Medicaid coverage and extend higher tax credits for people who buy health insurance under the president’s health care law. Barack Obama.
Biden’s recalibration of the cost of his plan has been accompanied by intensified conversations involving congressional leaders and White House lawmakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., met on Capitol Hill Monday night with White House officials, including Senior Advisor Brian Deese and Susan Rice, who heads Biden’s National Policy Council. Last week, Deese and Rice were among the White House aides who met Thursday night with Manchin and Sinema on Capitol Hill.
Top Democrats now hope to work out a deal that they can pass in Congress before October. 31, along with a $ 1 billion supplemental measure that funds highway, Internet, and other infrastructure projects.
Leaders had to abandon risky hopes of passing those measures last week after divisions between progressives and moderates left them without votes.
Their divisions remained despite Biden’s extraordinary visit to House Democrats on Friday in an effort to unify his party. That same day, Pelosi ruled out a planned vote on the Senate-approved infrastructure bill, which is coveted by moderates but held hostage by progressives to force them to back the social and environmental measure.
Associated Press journalist Jonathan Lemire in Howell, Michigan, contributed to this report.