The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

In budget turning point, Biden conceding smaller price tag

- By Alan Fram

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and congressio­nal Democrats’ push for a 10-year, $3.5 trillion package of social and environmen­tal initiative­s has reached a turning point, with the president repeatedly conceding that the measure will be considerab­ly smaller and pivotal lawmakers flashing potential signs of flexibilit­y.

In virtual meetings Monday and Tuesday with small groups of House Democrats, Biden said he reluctantl­y expected the legislatio­n’s final version to weigh in between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion, a Democrat familiar with the sessions said Tuesday. He told them he didn’t think he could do better than that, the person said, reflecting demands from some of the party’s more conservati­ve lawmakers.

Biden used those same figures during a Friday meeting in the Capitol with nearly all House Democrats, according to that person and a second Democrat familiar with the gathering. Both Democrats would describe the meetings only on condition of anonymity.

There has been no agreement on a final figure, and plenty of other unanswered questions — plus the possibilit­y of failure — remain. Crucial unresolved matters include how to get virtually every Democrat in Congress to vote for a measure they’ve spent months fighting over and that Republican­s will solidly oppose, and whether the shrunken price tag would be reached by dropping some proposals or by keeping most but at lower cost or shorter duration.

But by repeatedly conceding that the crown

jewel of his own domestic agenda will have to shrink and providing a range for its cost, Biden is trying to push his party beyond months of stalemate and refocus bargainers on nailing down needed policy and fiscal decisions.

“I want to make sure that we have a package that everyone can agree on,” Biden told reporters Tuesday in Howell, Michigan, where he went to try building public support for his plan. “It’s not going to be $3.5 trillion. It’s going to be less than that.”

Asked how he would trim $1 trillion from his initial plan, Biden said, “My objective is to get everything that I campaigned on passed.” He added, “It won’t all happen at once.” That seemed to suggest that some initiative­s in the bill might not begin right away or might last only temporaril­y to save money.

He also said he expected the measure to include means testing, or limits on the incomes of people who would qualify for initiative­s. Some moderates have wanted to impose such limits on some programs.

The social and environmen­t bill is the heart of Biden’s push to beef up federal efforts to help families and slow global warming.

It would require paid family and medical leave; extend tax breaks for families with children, low earners and people buying health insurance; expand Medicare coverage; prod energy companies to move toward cleaner fuels and provide free prekinderg­arten and community college. In a nod to his party’s progressiv­e instincts, it would be largely paid for by increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporate America.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.VA., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-ariz., want curb the bill’s cost and have been their party’s highest-profile holdouts. Manchin has insisted on holding the package to $1.5 trillion and has said he wants to means test some programs. Democratic leaders will need every vote in the 50-50 Senate and all but three in the House for victory.

In one indication of possible give-and-take, Manchin on Tuesday said, “I’m not ruling anything out,” when asked if he would definitely oppose a price tag in Biden’s range. Progressiv­es consider Manchin’s demand for a ceiling of $1.5 trillion unacceptab­le, though an aide said the senator still wants the lower number.

Manchin remained coy Wednesday, telling reporters, “My number’s been 1.5.” He said he wanted the legislatio­n to avoid turning the U.S. into “an entitlemen­t society” while helping children and seniors.

“It’s going to take time to get this done,” he said.

Progressiv­e Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-wash., said during Monday’s virtual meeting with Biden that she wanted $2.5 trillion to $2.9 trillion, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Jayapal leads the nearly 100-member Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus.

As Democrats make painful decisions about scaling down the measure, they are battling over whether to finance as many initiative­s as possible but for less than 10 years, or to pick out top priorities and fund them robustly.

Big proposed increases in housing may be cut. Expensive proposed Medicare dental benefits might have to be scaled back. And a proposed extension of a more generous children’s tax credit might be temporary, effectivel­y daring a future Congress to refuse to extend them.

That Medicare expansion, which also includes new coverage for hearing and vision, is competing for money against other proposals to expand Medicaid coverage and to extend bigger tax credits for people buying health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Biden’s recalibrat­ion of his plan’s cost has been accompanie­d by stepped up talks involving the White House, congressio­nal leaders and lawmakers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met late Monday in the Capitol with White House officials including senior adviser Brian Deese and Susan Rice, who heads Biden’s Domestic Policy Council. White House officials have met with Manchin and Sinema as well.

Top Democrats are now hoping to craft an agreement they can push through Congress by Oct. 31, along with a companion $1 trillion measure financing highway, internet and other infrastruc­ture projects.

The leaders had to abandon long shot hopes of advancing those measures last week after divisions between progressiv­es and moderates left them short of votes.

Their divisions remained despite Biden’s extraordin­ary visit with House Democrats on Friday in an effort to unify his party. That same day, Pelosi scrapped a planned vote on the Senateappr­oved infrastruc­ture bill, which is coveted by moderates but which progressiv­es are holding hostage to force them to back the social and environmen­t measure.

 ?? AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH ?? President Joe Biden talks with reporters after returning to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, after a trip to Michigan to promote his infrastruc­ture plan.
AP PHOTO/SUSAN WALSH President Joe Biden talks with reporters after returning to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, after a trip to Michigan to promote his infrastruc­ture plan.

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