By LISA MASCARO, DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – With a deal close at hand, President Joe Biden and the main Democrats in Congress came close to sealing their giant national legislation, although the informal deadline appeared to pass as they scrambled to reduce the measure and determine how to pay for it.
Negotiations were due to continue until the weekend, with all parties indicating that a few issues remained unresolved across the vast array of social services and climate change strategies.
Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who were joined by video call from New York, on Friday in the White House, trying to consolidate details. Leaders worked with moderates and progressives in the party to reduce the 10-year $ 3.5 trillion package to about $ 2 trillion in child care, health care and clean energy programs .
Pelosi said a deal was “very possible”.
She told reporters on Capitol Hill that more than 90% of the package had been accepted: Elements of the climate change bill “are resolved,” but unresolved questions remained over health care arrangements.
Vice President Kamala Harris seemed even more confident. During a visit to New York, she said tensions often mount over the final details, but “I am confident, frankly – not only optimistic, but I am confident that we will come to an agreement.”
No deal was announced before Friday’s self-imposed deadline to at least agree on a basic plan. Biden wants a deal before he leaves next week for world summits in Europe.
Pelosi had hoped the House could start voting as early as next week, but no timetable has been set.
Sticking points appear to include proposed corporate tax hikes to help fund the plan and an effort to cut prescription drug costs that have raised concerns from the pharmaceutical industry. Democrats are looking for a broad compromise between progressives and moderates in the party on the price of the measure, the sources of revenue and the basic components.
At the White House, the president has “rolled up his sleeves and delved into the details of the spreadsheets and the numbers,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Biden was scheduled to spend the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Psaki compared the work to starting Social Security and other major federal programs decades ago, then expanding them in subsequent years.
âThe progress here is a historic set that will put in place systems and programs that have never existed in our society before,â she said, noting efforts to expand child care and provide preschool. free to all young people.
Negotiations continue as Biden more forcefully appeals to the American public, including in a televised town hall, for what he says are middle-class values ââat the heart of his proposal.
In a Senate split evenly between Democrats and staunchly opposed Republicans, Biden can’t afford to lose a single vote. He sails between factions of his own party – the progressives, who want major investments in social services, and the centrists, who prefer to see the overall price drop.
âWhen you are President of the United States, you have 50 Democrats – each is President. Each. So you have to work it out, âhe said at a CNN town hall on Thursday.
Still, he expressed optimism about the process. âIt’s all about compromise. Compromise has become a dirty word, but bipartisanship and compromise have yet to be possible, âhe said.
On one issue – taxes to pay for the package – the White House idea seemed to be moving forward with a new strategy of scrapping plans to reverse Trump-era tax cuts in favor of an approach that would imply the imposition of a minimum corporate tax of 15%. and also tax the investment income of billionaires to help fund the deal.
Biden has faced resistance from major dissenters, especially Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, who disagreed with his party’s plan to reverse President Donald Trump’s tax breaks for large businesses and individuals earning over $ 400,000 per year.
The president was unusually open Thursday night about sticking points in negotiations with Sinema and another Democrat, Conservative Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
While the president said Sinema was opposed to raising “a single dime in taxes” on the rich or corporate, a White House official later clarified that the president was referring to the increase in top tax rates, not the range of tax proposals “that Senator Sinema supports.”
If so, it could unlock a key part of a deal. With a better understanding of disposable income, Democrats can then develop an expense amount for the package and adjust the duration and sums of the various programs accordingly.
Biden said Manchin did not want to “rush” the transition to clean energy so quickly that it would result in significant job losses in his coal-producing state.
Even still, Biden recognized major reductions from his original vision.
He reported that the final plan would no longer provide free community college, but said he hoped to increase Pell Grants to make up for the loss of the policy.
He also said what had been envisioned as a multi-month family leave program paid for by the federal government would only last four weeks.
Another work in progress – the idea of ââexpanding Medicare to include dental, visual and hearing benefits for the elderly – is a priority for Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent.
Biden said he liked the idea, but with Manchin and Sinema’s objection, the proposal is “a reach.”
Instead, Democrats, he said, plan to offer seniors an $ 800 voucher to access dental care as well as another hearing aid program that Sinema can support. However, the vision care component, Biden said, has been more difficult to resolve and there is no consensus yet.
Overall, Biden and his party are trying to support middle-class households, tackle climate change, and make wealthier Americans and corporations pay what he calls their “fair share” for the nation. .
At least $ 500 billion in tax credits for clean energy and other efforts to fight climate change, $ 350 billion in child care subsidies and free preschool, an extension of the credit monthly children’s tax of $ 300 put in place during the COVID-19 crisis, and money for health care provided by the Affordable Care Act.
The proposed new tax provisions, however, have angered Democrats who have long campaigned to scrap Republican-backed tax cuts that many say unduly reward the wealthy and cost the government untold sums in lost revenue. a time of yawning income inequality. Many are furious that perhaps a single senator can thwart this objective.
Under the proposed changes, the corporate rate of 21% would not change, nor would the top individual rate of 39.6% for those earning $ 400,000, or $ 450,000 for couples.
However, the White House is re-launching the idea of ââa minimum corporate tax rate that would hit even companies that say they have no taxable income – a frequent target of Biden, who complains of paying “zero” of tax. tax.
The new tax on the richest people would be modeled after the legislation of Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He proposed taxing stock gains of people with more than $ 1 billion in assets, or less than 1,000 Americans.
Associated Press editors Alex Jaffe, Kevin Freking, and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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