Democrats cut program lengths to lower cost of social policy and climate plan

WASHINGTON – Democrats on Wednesday put together a package that seemed increasingly likely to fund a range of health, education and other social programs for short periods of time as President Biden scrambled to meet demands of the different corners of his party.

Democratic lawmakers and their aides have said the plan being negotiated will likely bundle a long list of their priorities, but for shorter durations, to bring them down to a lower price. In White House meetings on Tuesday, Biden said the package would spend around $ 1.9 trillion, with the cost covered by taxes and other revenue, down from the $ 3.5 trillion originally projected. by Democratic leaders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) Said on Wednesday it was very possible that a framework would be finalized by the end of the week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY) said Wednesday he will meet with Ms Pelosi and the White House later today to go over the final details. The virtual meeting was also to include Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Oregon) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D., Massachusetts).

“I will continue to meet with my caucus to try to keep us all on the same page, because we have to be on the same page,” Schumer told the Senate. Lawmakers are also working to resolve sticking points over how to raise taxes and other sources of revenue to foot the bill.

Representative Pramila Jayapal and other progressive lawmakers met with President Biden at the White House on Tuesday.


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Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

During Tuesday’s meetings, Mr Biden discussed a one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit, according to lawmakers and aides. Passed as part of the $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill earlier this year, the new child tax credit provides monthly payments to millions of Americans. Many Democrats initially hoped to make it permanent or fund it for several years.

Democrats are also expected to include funding to extend the Affordable Care Act’s expanded grants and provide health care coverage to people without any in states that have not extended Medicaid for a more limited period of time than expected, according to legislators and assistants. And while Democrats resisted the removal of a new federal paid vacation program, it was unlikely to extend for the full 12 weeks they originally planned. Instead, lawmakers envisioned four weeks of paid leave for people earning less than $ 150,000 a year, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The strategy marks a shift from the sentiment expressed by Democratic leaders and many lawmakers that they would rather fund fewer programs over a longer period of time to fully establish them. Passing a slew of short-term agendas would immediately put them in a precarious state, leaving them to expire in future sessions of Congress, when Democrats might not control both Houses and the White House, without first becoming familiar and potentially popular with many Americans.

“It looks like everything is going to be shorter than expected,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Connecticut). “My concern continues to be that we’re going to be dividing the money out to do a little bit of everything instead of doing a handful of really good things.”

The powerful Progressive Caucus, a group of nearly 100 Liberal lawmakers in the House, had pushed not to exclude any of their top priorities, considering it difficult to reverse agendas once they are enacted.

“These are very popular, it will be difficult to undo them, so I am in favor of a fuller implementation for a shorter period of time,” said representative David Cicillin (D., RI).

This contrasts with other Democratic lawmakers.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin opposes a clean electricity program.


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ELIZABETH FRANTZ / REUTERS

“A number of us would rather do less things for a longer period of time,” said Representative Ami Bera (D., Calif.), Who attended one of the White House meetings on Tuesday. But he said he recognized that Democratic leaders need to unite the different factions of the party and that “we’re open to that, if that’s the right thing,” to clear the package from both houses.

Democratic leaders plan to pass all social and climate policy agendas through a budget-linked process that will allow it to pass the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes most bills have law need. Faced with unified GOP opposition in the two tightly divided chambers, that means they can afford not to lose more than three Democrats in the House and none in the equally divided Senate.

It gave West Virginia-centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema powerful leverage in the talks, both of which used to bring down the overall level of spending. Mr Biden acknowledged on Tuesday that Manchin’s opposition to a clean electricity program would force Democrats to abandon it.

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Triggering unease among many Democrats on Wednesday, there was no clear idea of ​​how much they would be able to cut emissions without the clean electricity program, which would have provided utility subsidies that increase the amount of clean electricity that they produce at least 4% per year, while penalizing public services that do not meet this standard. Mr Manchin argued that utilities should not receive federal funds for an energy transition they are already making.

“The question is, what are we going to do to get the emission reductions we need and what does that look like? Said Senator Tina Smith (D., Minn.). “It’s a very big gap” without the clean electricity program, she said.

Lawmakers said Mr Biden had also indicated that the package likely would not include two years of community college tuition-free, but would retain universal preschool.

The Democrats’ plan to fund President Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion Build Back Better initiative will need to strike the right balance to appeal to the progressives without alienating the moderates. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib chats with tax policy reporter Richard Rubin. Photographic illustration: Todd Johnson

A sticking point remains whether the package will include an extension of Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits, which Mr Schumer identified early in the process as a priority for liberal lawmakers being urged to do further. concessions.

“If I have anything to say about it, it sure will be,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I., Vermont) said of the inclusion of dental benefits.

Unlike vision and hearing programs, which can be set up fairly quickly, a new Medicare dental benefit is expected to take years to set up and will cost hundreds of billions, according to lawmakers and lawmakers. This has made it less attractive to some lawmakers as they attempt to reduce the overall level of spending to appease the centrists.

Mr Bera said he suggested simply broadening the audience and vision for Medicare benefits at Tuesday’s meeting. Mr Biden discussed the $ 800 dental vouchers during the meeting, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Opposition by some Democrats to a proposal that would allow Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies to reduce the cost of prescription drugs has also put pressure on the funding Democrats will need to spend on other health programs.

Democrats are rushing to make progress on social policy and the climate bill by the end of the month, when House Democrats hope to pass a separate $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill. of dollars. Progressives insisted on bringing the two pieces of legislation closer together, making agreement on the Social Policy and Climate Bill a politically necessary condition for the passage of the Public Works Bill.

Mr Biden also told lawmakers on Tuesday that he hoped to arrive at a crucial international meeting on climate change in Glasgow that begins on October 31 after making progress in congressional negotiations.

Write to Kristina Peterson at [email protected], Andrew Duehren at [email protected] and Natalie Andrews at [email protected]

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