The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Big pressure on Biden, Democrats to trim $3.5T federal overhaul


WASHINGTON — Pressure mounting, President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress strained Tuesday to trim back his $3.5 trillion government overhaul to win support from two key holdout senators ahead of make-or-break deadlines for votes.

Child care subsidies could be offered for several years, or just a few. Funding to expand dental, vision and hearing care for seniors is likely to start later. Tax hikes on corporatio­ns and the wealthy may be adjusted. And provisions to fight climate change or curb prescripti­on drug prices could change.

With Republican­s solidly opposed and no votes to spare, Democrats are poised to adjust the tax proposals and spending goals to meet the overall size demanded by party colleagues Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The two say Biden’s plan is too big but are publicly quiet about a number they can live with.

The president met separately with them at the White House seeking agreement before a Thursday test vote.

Assuming nothing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol, “In the next day or so we hope to come to a place where we can all move forward.“

The stakes are as high as ever as Biden and his party try to accomplish a giant legislativ­e lift, promising a vast rewrite of the nation’s tax priorities and spending goals with an oh-soslim majority in Congress.

Biden is under pressure to close the deal with Manchin and Sinema who are seen as linchpins for the final package. The two centrist senators have said they can’t support the proposed price tag and are now being pressed to say how high they are willing to go.

“Really good, honest, straightfo­rward negotiatio­ns,” Manchin told reporters back at the Capitol. He said he did not give Biden a new topline figure.

And it’s not just Biden’s fellow Democrats in the Senate. A small number of House Democrats also are bristling at the far-reaching scope of Biden’s domestic agenda and demanding changes before agreeing to vote yes.

“We’re obviously at a very sensitive time,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The president, she said, is “not going to tell anyone what to do. He’s going to have a discussion, have an engagement.”

The closed-door talks come after Republican senators for a second time blocked a bill to keep the government operating past Thursday and allow federal borrowing, risking a federal shutdown and devastatin­g debt default — though both seem highly unlikely.

Democrats said they will try again before Thursday’s deadline to pass a bill funding government operations past the Sept. 30 fiscal year-end, likely stripping out the more-heated debate over the debt limit for another day, closer to a separate October deadline.

Taken together, it’s all putting the entire Biden agenda perilously closer to collapse, with consequenc­es certain to shape his presidency and the lawmakers’ political futures.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress in a letter Tuesday that Oct. 18 is a critical date — when the Treasury Department will likely exhaust all of its “extraordin­ary measures” being taken to avoid a default on the government’s obligation­s.

Meanwhile, the behind the scenes action over the $3.5 trillion measure is testing Biden’s grip on his party, as he seeks a once-in-a-generation reworking of the nation’s balance sheets.

Applying pressure, progressiv­es are unwavering so far in their refusal to go along with a vote expected Thursday on a companion bill, a $1 trillion public works measure that they say is too meager without Biden’s bigger package assured.

For a second day on Tuesday, Senate Republican­s rejected an effort to ease the nation’s debt limit to avoid a dangerous default on its payments for past bills.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell grew testy with reporters when asked about Yellen’s warning that Congress must swiftly resolve the issue.

“Of course the debt ceiling has to be raised,” he said. But he insisted Democrats shoulder the unpopular vote on their own.

On Monday, Republican­s had rejected the Democrats’ effort to link the debt ceiling vote to the must-pass funding bill to keep government running.

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