WASHINGTON – Pressure from President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats for a 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion social and environmental package has reached a turning point, with the President repeatedly conceding that the measure will be considerably smaller and pivotal legislators showing potential signs of flexibility.
In virtual meetings Monday and Tuesday with small groups of House Democrats, Biden said he reluctantly expected the final version of the legislation to weigh between $ 1.9 trillion and $ 2.3 trillion. a Democrat familiar with the sessions said Tuesday. He told them he didn’t think he could do better than that, the person said, mirroring the demands of some of the party’s more conservative lawmakers.
Biden used those same numbers in a Friday meeting on Capitol Hill with nearly all House Democrats, according to that person and a second Democrat familiar with the rally. The two Democrats would only describe the meetings on condition of anonymity.
There was no agreement on a final number and many other unanswered questions – as well as the possibility of failure – remain. Critical unresolved questions include how to get virtually all Congressional Democrats to vote for a measure they have spent months fighting for and which Republicans will strongly oppose, and whether the cut price would be achieved by dropping some proposals. or by keeping most but at a lower cost or shorter duration.
But by repeatedly conceding that the crown jewel of his own national agenda will have to shrink and providing a fork for its cost, Biden is trying to push his party past the months of stalemate and refocus negotiators on determination. necessary political and fiscal decisions.
âI want to make sure we have a package that everyone can agree on,â Biden told reporters Tuesday in Howell, Michigan, where he went to try and build public support for his plan. âIt won’t be $ 3.5 trillion. It will be less than that.
When asked how he would cut $ 1 trillion from his original plan, Biden said, “My goal is to pass everything I campaigned on.” He added: “Not everything will happen at the same time.” This seemed to suggest that some initiatives in the bill might not start right away or last only temporarily to save money.
He also said he expected the measure to include means tests or limits on the incomes of those eligible for the initiatives. Some moderates wanted to impose such limits on certain programs.
The social and environmental bill is at the heart of Biden’s efforts to strengthen federal efforts to help families and slow global warming.
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This would require paid family and medical leave; extend tax breaks to families with children, low-income people and people with health insurance; extend health insurance coverage; encourage energy companies to switch to cleaner fuels and provide free preschools and community colleges. In a nod to the progressive instincts of his party, this would be largely paid for by increasing taxes on the rich and American corporations.
Senators Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Want to reduce the cost of the bill and have been their party’s most prominent refractors. Manchin insisted on keeping the package at $ 1.5 trillion and said he wanted to test some programs. Democratic leaders will need every 50-50 Senate vote and all but three in the House for victory.
In an indication of possible give-and-take, Manchin said on Tuesday, “I’m not ruling anything out,” when asked if he would definitely oppose a price tag in Biden’s lineup. Progressives consider Manchin’s demand for a cap of $ 1.5 trillion unacceptable, although an aide said the senator still wanted the lower number.
Manchin remained shy on Wednesday, telling reporters: “My number is 1.5.” He said he wanted the legislation to avoid turning the United States into a “society of rights” while helping children and the elderly.
“It’s going to take time for that to happen,” he said.
Progressive Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Said in Monday’s virtual meeting with Biden that she wanted $ 2.5-2.9 trillion, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Jayapal heads the Progressive Congressional Caucus, which has nearly 100 members.
As Democrats make painful decisions about scaling back, they are fighting over whether to fund as many initiatives as possible but for less than 10 years, or pick the top priorities and fund them solidly.
Large increases offered in accommodation may be reduced. The costly dental benefits offered by Medicare may need to be reduced. And a proposal to extend a more generous child tax credit could be temporary, effectively challenging a future Congress to refuse to extend them.
This Medicare extension, which also includes new coverage for hearing and vision, competes for the money against other proposals to expand Medicaid coverage and extend larger tax credits to people who purchase health insurance under President Barack Obama’s Health Care Act.
Biden’s recalibration of the cost of his plan has been accompanied by an escalation of talks involving the White House, congressional leaders and lawmakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., met on Monday night at the Capitol with White House officials, including Senior Advisor Brian Deese and Susan Rice, who heads the Biden Home Policy Council. White House officials also met with Manchin and Sinema.
Top Democrats are now hoping to secure a deal they can push through Congress by Oct. 31, along with an additional $ 1 trillion to fund highway projects, the internet and more. infrastructure projects.
Leaders had to give up long-term hopes of pushing these measures forward last week after divisions between progressives and moderates left them strapped for votes.
Their divisions remained despite Biden’s extraordinary visit with House Democrats on Friday in an effort to unify his party. On the same day, Pelosi overturned a planned vote on the Senate-approved infrastructure bill, which is coveted by moderates but which progressives are holding hostage to force them to support the social and environmental measure.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in Howell, Michigan, contributed to this report.