Biden cuts agenda in hopes of bringing moderates on board

WASHINGTON – President Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders in recent days have reduced their ambitions for a major expansion of the U.S. social safety net to $ 2.3 trillion or less, which will force tough choices on how reduce a proposition that the president hopes will be transformational.

The figure is significantly lower than Mr. Biden’s previous plan, which called for $ 3.5 trillion in new spending and tax cuts to spur a generational expansion of government into the lives of Americans, including efforts to combat the climate change and child poverty, increase access to education and help US businesses compete with China.

Democratic leaders will likely have to restrict their plans for free community college, child tax credits and universal preschool to only be offered to low- and middle-income Americans, according to party members involved in the negotiations. .

The White House is also questioning whether to try to keep as many programs as possible, reducing their duration or scope, or abandon some initiatives altogether and keep others largely intact, according to people familiar with the discussions. .

The cuts are a big blow to Mr. Biden’s agenda, but the remaining plans would still bring significant benefits to a wide range of Americans. Mr Biden and his aides have known for months that they would most likely need to scale back the size and scope of his plans to satisfy the moderates in his party. But the president has stressed, in public and private conversations with Democrats, that even a smaller bill could change the landscape of the U.S. economy and help the party hold power in the midterm elections. next year.

“These bills are about competitiveness versus appeasement,” Biden said Tuesday in Michigan, where he spoke in a union hall to promote not only his bill’s spending policies, but a smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate but not. the House. “They speak of opportunity versus decadence.”

The president admitted in private meetings Monday and Tuesday with House Democrats that he is now negotiating a plan to spend no more than $ 2.3 trillion, and possibly less, on a concession to two centrist refractories Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Their votes are essential: Mr. Biden will need the support of all Senate Democrats and virtually all House members to get the bill passed. Manchin said he would back a $ 1.5 trillion package under certain conditions.

Progressives are always asking for more. In a private meeting between Mr. Biden and progressive lawmakers on Monday, Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pushed back the range proposed by Mr. Biden and instead suggested a price of at least 2, $ 5 trillion, and up to $ 2.9 trillion, according to someone familiar with the comments. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a closed meeting.

White House advisers have said privately that Mr Biden is pushing Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema to spend as much as possible on the final bill. Administration officials also say the lower spending costs and tax cuts in the bill will mean Democrats will have an easier time settling on income increases – including increases in income. taxes on top incomes and businesses – to cover the price.

Republicans say the legislation inserts too much government into people’s lives and argue its tax hikes would cripple the economy. But supporters of the bill see a rare and perhaps fleeting opportunity to deliver on decades of promises Democrats made to voters. Privately, many Democrats fear losing their majority in Congress next year in the midterm elections, potentially making it their last chance for a while to craft programs they believe will prove to be effective and efficient. popular.

“If the final package fails to reach this point, it will be a wasted opportunity with historic consequences,” said Lindsay Owens, executive director of the progressive Groundwork Collaborative in Washington. “These aren’t just numbers on a page or props for political positions – every dollar represents real investments in climate, housing, health care and other essential programs that our communities need to survive and prosper.”

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders have set October 31 as the next self-imposed deadline to attempt to pass both the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill and the vast domestic policy package.

Lawmakers and progressive interest groups have started pressuring Democratic leaders and the White House to keep their preferred spending plans in the bill, in whole or in part. Supporters of what Biden initially proposed as a $ 400 billion investment in home health care for disabled and elderly Americans, including the powerful Service Employees International Union, are pushing to keep these spending at a a level that both broadens access to home care and also increases the salaries of caregivers. These workers disproportionately include women of color, making this spending a key part of Mr. Biden’s promise to invest in racial equity.

On Tuesday, the centrist Progressive Policy Institute released a report outlining a potential $ 2 trillion plan built around efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a means-tested preschool program, an extension of the Affordable Care Act and a more modest extension of the parent tax credit that Mr Biden has championed.

Mr. Biden did not say what he would cut. But lobbyists and interest groups have analyzed recent comments from the president and his team for clues.

For example: A White House fact sheet released prior to Michigan’s speech included a list of statistics on the number of state residents who would be aided by Mr. Biden’s plans to subsidize child care, providing a universal preschool, building affordable housing, investing in child nutrition and more. But he notably didn’t mention a paid vacation program for workers that was a cornerstone of Mr. Biden’s initial economic plans, and Mr. Biden didn’t mention paid vacation in his speech.

“No one is going to get everything they want,” Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said Monday. “But whatever happens, our final proposal will live up to the fundamental promise we made to the American people.”

In a letter to her fellow Democrats in the House this week, President Nancy Pelosi of California outlined three categories that a final package should address to support children and jobs: healthcare, including both l extension of Medicaid and improved Medicare benefits, family care and the climate. She wrote that it remained important to “highlight and communicate to the country the transformative nature of legislative initiatives”.

Some Liberals have called for including as many programs as possible and then continuing to build on them in future legislation. But Ms Pelosi, speaking privately to members of the House’s Democratic leadership on Tuesday, suggested that many caucus members thought it would be best to focus on fewer programs than they might run well, two say. people familiar with the comments.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden virtually met for about an hour with a handful of Swing District Democrats, who face some of the most difficult midterm re-election fights, to hear their priorities and reiterate his commitment to seeing both laws. become law.

Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, said those in attendance “wanted to let him know that House members who were in the toughest races are with him and support this action.”

The group of lawmakers there – including Reps Cindy Axne from Iowa, Lizzie Fletcher from Texas, and Abigail Spanberger from Virginia – mainly focused on including the expanded tax cut that provides monthly payments. to families, tackling climate change and reducing the cost of prescription drugs, as well as personal priorities, according to those familiar with the discussion.

Representative Susan Wild, Democrat from Pennsylvania, said Mr Biden took careful notes during the virtual call as lawmakers detailed their priorities.

“Not a single one of us gave it a better line – we really focused a lot more on the programs,” Ms. Wild said. “Even though that means fewer programs, we want them to run well, so I don’t think any of us have found it useful to just talk about an abstract number.”

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