The Oklahoman

Democrats edge closer in budget talks

Pelosi: Deal on domestic legislatio­n ‘very possible’

- Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville and Alan Fram

WASHINGTON – A deal within reach, President Joe Biden and Congress’ top Democrats edged close to sealing their giant domestic legislatio­n Friday, though appearing to let the day’s informal deadline slip as they worked to scale back the measure and determine how to pay for it.

Negotiatio­ns were expected to continue into the weekend, all sides indicating just a few issues remained unsettled in the sweeping package of social services and climate change strategies.

Biden met at the White House with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined by video call from from New York, trying to shore up details. The leaders have been working with party moderates and progressiv­es to shrink the once-$3.5 trillion, 10-year package to around $2 trillion in child care, health care and clean energy programs. Pelosi said a deal was “very possible.” She told reporters back at the Capitol that more than 90% of the package was agreed to: The climate change components of the bill “are resolved,” but outstandin­g questions remain on health care provisions.

Biden wants a deal before he leaves next week for global summits in Europe.

Pelosi said she hoped the House could start voting as soon as next week, but no schedule was set. Democrats had imposed a Friday deadline to at least strike agreement, but by early evening no deal was announced.

“Much of what we need to do has been written. Just a few decisions now,” Pelosi said.

Sticking points appear to include proposed corporate tax hikes to help finance the plan and an effort to lower prescripti­on drug costs that has raised concerns from the pharmaceut­ical industry. Democrats are in search of a broad compromise between the party’s progressiv­es and moderates on the measure’s price tag, revenue sources and basic components.

At the White House, the president has “rolled up his sleeves and is deep in the details of spreadshee­ts and numbers,” press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Psaki compared the work to starting Social Security and other major federal programs decades ago, and then building on them in following years.

“Progress here is a historic package that will put in place systems and programs that have never existed in our society before,” she said, noting the effort to expand child care and provide free pre-kindergart­en for all youngsters.

Negotiatio­ns are proceeding as Biden more forcefully appeals to the American public, including in a televised town hall, for what he says are the middleclas­s values at the heart of his proposal.

In a Senate that is evenly divided between the Democrats and firmly opposed Republican­s, Biden can’t afford to lose a single vote.

He is navigating his own party’s factions – progressiv­es, who want major investment­s in social services, and centrists, who prefer to see the overall price tag go down.

“When you’re president of the United States, you have 50 Democrats – every one is a president. Every single one. So you gotta work things out,” he said during a CNN town hall Thursday.

Still, he expressed optimism about the process. “It’s all about compromise. Compromise has become a dirty word, but bipartisan­ship and compromise still has to be possible,” he said.

Biden said the discussion­s were “down to four or five issues.”

On one issue – the taxes to pay for the package – the White House idea seemed to be making headway with a new strategy of abandoning plans for reversing Trump-era tax cuts in favor of an approach that would involve imposing a 15% corporate minimum tax and also taxing the investment incomes of billionair­es to help finance the deal.

Biden has faced resistance from key holdouts, in particular Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has not been on board with her party’s plan to undo President Donald Trump’s tax breaks for big corporatio­ns and individual­s earning more than $400,000 a year.

The president was unusually forthcomin­g Thursday night about the sticking points in the negotiatio­ns with Sinema and another Democrat, conservati­ve Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

While the president said Sinema opposed raising “a single penny in taxes” on the wealthy or corporatio­ns, a White House official later clarified that the president was referring to raising the top tax rates, not the range of tax proposals “which Sen. Sinema supports.”

If so, that could unlock a key piece of a deal. With a better understand­ing of the revenues available, Democrats can then develop a topline amount of spending for the package, and adjust the duration and sums for various programs accordingl­y.

Biden said Manchin doesn’t want to “rush” the transition to clean energy so quickly it will result in major job losses in his coal-producing state.

Even still, Biden acknowledg­ed major reductions to his original vision.

He signaled the final plan would no longer provide free community college, but said he hoped to increase Pell Grants to compensate for the loss of the policy.

He also said that what had been envisioned as a federally paid, months-long family leave program would be just four weeks.

Another work in progress – the idea of expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors, is a priority for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independen­t of Vermont.

Biden said he likes the idea, but with Manchin and Sinema objecting, the proposal is “a reach.”

 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP FILE ?? President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seen here on Oct. 1, met Friday to wrap up their giant domestic legislatio­n.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP FILE President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, seen here on Oct. 1, met Friday to wrap up their giant domestic legislatio­n.
 ?? MANDEL NGAN/POOL VIA AP ?? Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has been a key holdout for the Democrats.
MANDEL NGAN/POOL VIA AP Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has been a key holdout for the Democrats.

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