Congressional Democrats keen to push forward President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan begin to face the heartbreaking challenge of compressing their ambitious reshaping of the nation’s social safety net programs into the much smaller package needed to win over major centrists .
For a second day, Democratic leaders and White House officials gathered on Capitol Hill in hopes of reaching agreement on a framework for the social investment program, which should establish paid family leave and grants for child care, senior care and community college, as well as strengthening existing health programs, among other progressive ambitions.
Biden met with House Democrats behind closed doors on Friday to rally their support. He urged them to find a compromise around a $ 2,000 billion price tag for the 10-year package, down from the $ 3.5 trillion Democrats have publicly considered for months.
President Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) hoped a deal on a framework would unleash support from a group of progressives who have said they will not vote for the first part of Biden’s plan – a bipartisan bill to repair roads and bridges across the country and upgrade other infrastructure – until they are assured the Conservatives Democrats. Joe Manchin III from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona will support Part Two – the Social Safety Net Bill.
Pelosi had said earlier on Friday that the House would vote on the $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan, having already delayed the vote twice this week. But in the evening, the vote was again canceled, with no further steps announced.
“While great progress has been made in negotiations to craft an agreement between the House, Senate and White House on the Build Back Better Act, more time is needed to complete the task,” Pelosi wrote in a statement. late night letter to fellow Democrats.
The speaker had intended to use Thursday evening’s expiration of annual road funding as a pressure point to vote on the infrastructure bill. But to show how remote a broader deal could be, the House only approved a 30-day interim highway bill on Friday.
Biden, too, has expressed no urgency for an immediate vote.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to do it, ”Biden said as he left the meeting in the Capitol basement.
The new roughly $ 2 trillion target for the social spending plan comes after Manchin first said publicly on Thursday that he could not support more than $ 1.5 trillion, meaning Democrats are almost certain to have to significantly redesign the package. He cannot pass the Senate without Manchin and Sinema’s votes, assuming all 50 Republicans in the chamber continue to oppose it.
Democrats are just starting to grapple with the decision to name the winners and losers of the original package to make sure the remaining programs are fully funded, or to slice each of them a bit, weakening them all.
If they choose to decide, they might choose to offer most of the benefits only to the poorest Americans, a “means test” that Manchin strongly supports. Or they could limit the duration of their effect. This option would create a potential cliff in a few years when the benefits expire, putting them at risk if Democrats do not maintain control of Congress and the White House. Biden addressed this political dynamic during the closed-door meeting.
“He’s trying to tell people, think about what programs you need and if we get them, if the Republicans get the upper hand, let them try to cancel them,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) said.
A third possible avenue, delaying the onset of benefits to reduce costs, poses another challenge: Democrats would have nothing tangible to discuss at home before next year’s midterm elections.
“There are many different ways to pursue all programs and even quite robustly, but through [delayed] the timing, the phase-out and the average tests, get the price the centrists need, said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “Depending on the particular line item, we’ll probably do all of these things. “
But other Democrats argue it would be better to be bold on a smaller number of articles. This, however, has the potential to lead to significant bickering within the parties as different factions clash over their priorities.
The postponement of program implementation raises particular concerns. When Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, they delayed insurance subsidies for four years in order to save money – due to the complicated way Congress calculates costs – and to allow time for complex insurance exchanges to be put in place. But the delay has left supporters of the law politically vulnerable until the popular advantages are rolled out.
“Whatever we put in there, I don’t want it to take three or four years before people feel it,” said Rep Mark Takano (D-Riverside).
Democrats, at least in the Senate, increasingly believe they will have to meet Manchin and Sinema wherever they land. “I don’t think we have a choice,” said one Democrat, on condition of anonymity to share internal discussions. But this is not a universal point of view.
“Every element of the current proposal, which is not final, is more than justified – from the care economy, the climate, immigration reform and everything in between,” said Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Who sees the $ 3.5 trillion package as a compromise to Senator Bernie Sanders’ initial hopes of a $ 6 trillion plan. “I understand that we may have to adjust the number, but every part of the package is important and urgent. “
The expanded child tax credit, rolled out on a temporary basis in the Democrats’ COVID-19 relief bill, has become a widespread favorite. Arrangements to help fight climate change are also considered sacrosanct by many, although some of the proposals are costly.
In a document signed alongside Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) on July 28, but only released widely on Thursday when it was published in Politico, Manchin revealed the parameters of a deal that ‘he would argue. He listed “family and health” programs, such as tax credits for childcare and Obamacare, and set parameters around the climate provisions he would support. He wants assurance that fossil fuel subsidies will not be repealed and that electric vehicle subsidies will be extended to hydrogen vehicles, both of which help his coal-intensive state.
While Sinema has been much less transparent with her interests, what she has revealed publicly has made it clear that she and Manchin have different interests. She emphasized the climate, unlike Manchin. And she was concerned about inflation and tax hikes.
Pelosi made no secret that she wanted to strengthen the Affordable Care Act tax credits, which were also temporarily increased in the COVID-19 bill passed in March. The Majority Whip, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, separately prioritized the creation of a new program to provide Medicaid to poor people in states who have not taken advantage of the option of ” expand the program under the ACA.
Both are likely to run counter to the wishes of progressives led by Sanders (I-Vt.) To expand medicare to include vision, dental and hearing, which are likely to be be popular with the elderly. In contrast, expanding Medicaid would help the very poor in most Republican-led states, and increasing ACA grants would help middle-income people across the country.
Choosing among these health provisions is likely to face additional constraints, as Democrats’ hopes of requiring drugmakers to negotiate their prices in Medicare will likely be reduced amid strong opposition from four. House Democrats and several Senators. The negotiation package would have funded health expansion programs.
Democrats will look to Biden to help them steer those choices and provide political cover for those who will lose out by what is cut.
“At the end of the day, since it’s the president’s agenda, the president’s going to have to come out and say, ‘That’s what I accept, and it’s on my agenda, and that’s what I think. said Representative Gregory. W. Meeks (DN.Y.).
And it’s clear other Democrats will hold Biden, Manchin and Sinema politically responsible for what’s left on the chopping block.
“Part of the tricky dance I think for some people, the naysayers who want to reduce the president’s vision, is that his vision is very popular, so it took them a long time to come up with a counter-offer because it it’s hard to say, ‘Well, I don’t want that popular stuff in there,’ ”Takano said. “I’m going to be mad at the things some people say you can’t have, but they have to tell me. I will not make the choice.