Dems look to shave economic plan
Manchin’s demands press Biden to limit focus to health care
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden seemed to bow Friday to Sen. Joe Manchin’s demand for a slimmed-down economic package, telling Democrats to quickly push the election-year measure through Congress so families could “sleep easier” and enjoy the health care savings it proposes.
Biden’s statement came hours after Manchin, the West Virginian who is one of Congress’ more conservative Democrats, said that if party leaders wanted to pass a measure before next month’s recess, it should be limited to provisions curbing prescription drug prices, extending subsidies for people buying health insurance and reducing the federal deficit.
“Families all over the nation will sleep easier if Congress takes this action,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “The Senate should move forward, pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it.”
Biden’s remarks underscored a growing sentiment among Democrats that after months of bargaining with Manchin that only made the president’s top-tier domestic priority ever smaller, it was time to declare victory.
That would mean postponing congressional action on easing climate change and raising taxes on higher earners and large companies, components Democrats have long wanted in the economic package. That would represent a jarring setback for those goals, which rank among the party’s most deeply held aspirations and set up a risky congressional showdown over the plan until the cusp of November’s
Even so, reducing pharmaceutical costs, helping consumers purchase health coverage and trimming federal red ink would let Democrats flash significant achievements before voters.
Manchin, whose vote is a necessity for Democrats to succeed in the 50-50 Senate, had also said Friday that if party leaders want to pursue a broader measure aimed at global warming and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, they should wait until later this summer. He argued that would allow time to see what happens to inflation and interest rates this month.
“Let’s wait until that comes out so we know we’re going down the path that won’t be inflammatory to add more to inflation,” Manchin said on “Talkline,”
a West Virginia talk radio show hosted by Hoppy Kercheval.
After months of citing inflation fears among his reasons for seeking to trim Biden’s overall package, Manchin raised intensified concerns this week after the government said annual inflation hit 9.1% in June, the heftiest increase in 41 years.
In his statement, Biden said action on climate and clean energy “remains more urgent than ever” but acknowledged a willingness to accept delays in congressional action.
“If the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment,” he said. He added, “I will not back down: The opportunity to create jobs
and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”
Biden’s comments marked the latest retreat he and congressional Democratic leaders have made since initially pushing wider-ranging goals early last year that would have cost $3.5 trillion or more.
Those priorities would have also provided free pre-kindergarten, low-cost child care, paid family leave and more. They ultimately fell victim to Democrats’ slender majorities in Congress and changes in the political and economic climate that have seen voters’ concerns over the inflation and the economy intensify.
Manchin had told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday that he could not support a bill now that would include
other party goals like battling climate change and raising taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, according to a Democrat briefed on those talks.
The two lawmakers have been negotiating for months over a package that’s been expected to reach around $1 trillion over 10 years, with about half used to reduce federal deficits. Manchin blew up an earlier $2 trillion social and economic package last December after it had passed the House, a major setback for Biden.
Manchin said he considered his talks with Schumer “still going.” Yet his latest stance evoked a mixture of anger and pragmatism from fellow Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she was unsure what remained in her party’s proposal but added, “I would be very, of course, disappointed if the whole saving the planet is out of the bill.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she was skeptical about Manchin’s acceptance of a health care focused package. “Look, the guy has changed his mind” before, Jayapal told reporters. “So let’s see. I have no confidence.”
John Podesta, a former senior counselor to President Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, said: “It seems odd that Manchin would choose as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity.”