Biden Tells Democrats to Pass More Modest Economic Package

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 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.”

He added, “This will not only lower the cost of prescription drugs and health care for families, it will reduce the deficit and help fight inflation.”

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Manchin, who is an essential vote for Democrats, said also that party leaders need to wait to take up a larger measure to combat climate change, raise taxes on wealthy corporations and curb the rise in inequality. This would give him time to observe the impact of inflation and interest rates in the month. A delay would mean that legislation would not be considered until weeks before November’s elections, which would jeopardize its fate.

In his statement, Biden said action on climate and clean energy “remains more urgent than ever” but also acknowledged a willingness to accept, for now, 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. His moves would produce jobs, shield the country against fuel price hikes and protect the climate, he said, adding, “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.

These priorities would have included free pre-kindergarten and low-cost child-care, as well as paid family leave. But they ultimately fell victim to Democrats’ slender majorities in Congress and stark changes in the political and economic climate that have seen voters show deep concerns over this year’s soaring inflation, including record gasoline prices.

The president’s options for executive action or Environmental Protection Agency regulations could include rejecting permits for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters, tightening pollution allowed from coal-fired plants and restricting natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

Advocates for the environment want him to declare a national emergency to increase clean energy like solar and wind power.

This is a BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats should delay President Joe Biden’s signature economic package until later this summer, Sen. Joe Manchin said Friday, a demand that would jeopardize the party’s tax and environment goals and set up a risky congressional showdown over the plan until the cusp of November’s elections.

According to the West Virginia Democrat, this pivotal figure said that party leaders must limit their vote on the still-emerging bill to measures such as reducing pharmaceutical prices, extending federal health care subsidies soon to expire, and reducing federal deficits.

While those are leading Democratic priorities, that would mean excluding other top objectives they’ve long pursued under Biden. Those include prompting a shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources and paying for its priorities by taxing the wealthiest Americans and companies, both among the party’s most deeply held aspirations.

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The party leaders hoped that they could achieve these initiatives before the election in which Republicans are likely to win control. Democrats are eager to show they are addressing this year’s steadily rising consumer costs, which polls show are voters’ paramount concern.

Manchin stated that Democrats should wait until July numbers on inflation become available. These figures would be made in August. The Federal Reserve should also be evaluated by lawmakers as they attempt to control rising inflation and avoid a recession.

“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.

According to a Democrat who was briefed about those discussions, Manchin said that he spoke the day after telling Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader of Senate that he couldn’t support a bill that included other goals such as fighting climate change or raising taxes on large corporations.

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. He has been expressing concerns about inflation for many months, but his most recent demands are coming days after the government reported that consumer prices rose at 9.1% last month, which is the highest annual increase since 1981.

Support from Manchin, one of his party’s more conservative members of Congress, will make or break any measure Democrats can produce in the evenly divided Senate. Republicans oppose the plan unanimity, arguing that tax and spending increases would only inflame inflation.

Manchin’s apparent rejection of the climate measures is a jarring setback for Biden’s ambitious environmental agenda. This includes removing carbon dioxide from the power sector by 2035, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, as compared with 2005.

In a bid to secure Manchin’s support, Democrats had slimmed their down their planned climate spending from $555 billion to just over $300 billion. He’d also forced Democrats to drop two provisions he opposes: giving tax credits to drivers who purchase electric vehicles, and making it easier for producers of clean energy to collect tax breaks.

Asked about Manchin’s stance, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday aboard Air Force One, “We’re just not going to negotiate in public.” She said Biden would use “every authority that he has” to rein in climate change.

Manchin said he considered his talks with Schumer “still going.” Yet his latest stance evoked a mixture of anger and pragmatism from fellow Democrats, who must weigh whether to declare victory with a package narrowed to Manchin’s contours.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 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.” A spokesperson for Schumer did not immediately return requests for comment.

Rep. Pramila Japal, D. Wash., leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She said she supported the prescription drug- and health care subventions that Manchin stated he supports, but was skeptical that Manchin would support them.

“Look, the guy has changed his mind” before, Jayapal told reporters. “So let’s see. I have no confidence.”

Manchin blew up Biden’s $2 trillion social and economic package last December after it had passed the House and following months of talks in which Democrats pared it down to meet the West Virginian’s demands. After months of negotiations, Manchin helped to force Biden’s party to scrap its original plans for an $3.5 trillion price tag. He also coerced Biden into dropping his proposals for pre-kindergarten, child support assistance, and family and medical leaves.

“If there was a guarantee that we could get the bigger deal in September, I’m open to that,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “But to go to the altar, at some point we need to say, ‘I do.’”

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Democrats desire to come to an agreement with Congress, and then push it through Congress before Congress begins its August recess.

Democrats would face a rapidly ticking clock if they delay action after the break. Special budget powers expire Oct. 1 that would let them push the legislation through the 50-50 Senate over solid GOP opposition with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

There is a chance that Democrats could be absent due to COVID-19 and other reasons, which would result in them losing the necessary votes. This would force Congress to act until weeks before November’s elections. Any votes could then be easily turned into damaging attack ads.

Manchin said he was concerned that raising corporate taxes would prompt layoffs and some of his party’s environmental proposals would hinder “what this country needs to run the economic engine and the lives of human beings.”

Others Democrats believe the larger measure will address an existing global environmental disaster and allow lower-income earners to afford health insurance. The Democrats are adamant that the initiative would be paid for entirely by large corporations and high-earners paying their fair share of taxes. This is a very popular cause.

AP reportersFarnoush Amiri and Matthew Daly Will Weissert Contributed to the report.

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