(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden declared Thursday he has reached a “historic economic framework” with Democrats in Congress on his sweeping domestic policy package, a hard-fought yet dramatically scaled-back deal announced hours before he departs for overseas summits.
Biden’s remarks at the White House came after he traveled to Capitol Hill to make the case to House Democrats for the still robust domestic package — $1.75 trillion of social services and climate change programs the White House believes can pass the 50-50 Senate.
“It will fundamentally change the lives of millions of people for the better,” Biden said at the White House.
Biden said that together with the nearly $1 trillion in bipartisan infrastructure bills, which are due for final votes by Thursday night, it would be an achievement domestically greater than Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt.
“I need your votes,” Biden told the lawmakers earlier, according to a person who requested anonymity to discuss the private remarks.
Biden was keen to get a deal done before leaving for international summits. But the revised package has lost some of the Democrats’ top priorities as the president’s ambitions make way for the political realities of the narrowly divided Congress.
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Senior administration officials spoke out to say that paid family leave and attempts to reduce prescription drug prices have been dropped completely from the package. They requested anonymity so reporters could learn more about these details.
Still in the mix: Free prekindergarten for all youngsters, expanded health care programs — including the launch of a $35 billion new hearing aid benefit for people with Medicare — and $555 billion to tackle climate change.
There’s also a one-year extension of a child care tax credit that was put in place during the COVID-19 rescue and new child care subsidies. If it passes the Senate, an additional $100 billion could be added to the package to strengthen the border processing and immigration system.
With support for even the narrowed package still an issue, Biden said as he left the Capitol, “I think we’re going to be in good shape.”
At least one pivotal holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., struck a similar tone: “I look forward to getting this done.”
However, another holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was less committal: “This is all in the hands of the House right now.”
Taking form after months of negotiations, Biden’s emerging bill would still be among the most sweeping of its kind in a generation, modeled on the New Deal and Great Society programs. The White House calls it the largest-ever investment in climate change and the biggest improvement to the nation’s healthcare system in more than a decade.
According to the participants to the private meeting, Biden stated that he wants progress when he travels to Rome to attend a summit. The goal of the summit is to demonstrate to world leaders (including those from Russia and China) that democracy still works.
“We are at an inflection point,” Biden said. “The rest of the world wonders whether we can function.”
And he said it’s not “hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”
At one point, Biden “asked for a spirited enthusiastic vote on his plan,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Twice over the course of the hour-long meeting Democratic lawmakers rose to their feet and started yelling: “Vote, vote, vote,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia.
Biden’s proposal would be paid for by imposing a new 5% surtax on income over $10 million a year and instituting a new 15% corporate minimum tax, keeping with his plans to have no new taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year, officials said.
Revenue to help pay for the package would also come from rolling back some of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts, along with stepped-up enforcement of tax-dodgers by the IRS. Biden pledged to pay the full cost of the plan and not add on debt.
The framework, however, isn’t the complete legislative text. As lawmakers and aides pointed out to us, it hasn’t been approved by legislators.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the progressive caucus leader, said unveiling the new framework “will show tremendous momentum. But we want to see the actual text because we don’t want any confusion and misunderstandings.”
Progressives withheld support for the smaller bipartisan bill on infrastructure until they could reach an agreement to the full Biden package.
The Senate has passed the separate infrastructure bill worth $1 trillion for road, broadband, and other public works. It faces a Sunday vote deadline, at which point routine transportation funds could expire.
In the divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare. Similar to the Senate, it is also split by a narrow margin of votes.
Two key Democratic holdouts, Manchin and Sinema, have almost single-handedly reduced the size and scope of their party’s big vision.
Sinema has been instrumental in pushing her party off a promise to undo the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts, forcing Democrats to take a different approach from simply raising top rates on individuals and corporations.
And Manchin’s resistance to government programs forced serious cutbacks to a clean energy plan and the outright elimination of paid family leave. He insisted that parents who receive the child care subsidy should have to work.
White House officials have been meeting repeatedly with Manchin and Sinema, two senators who now hold enormous power, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.
At the same time, progressives achieved one key priority — Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders’ proposal to provide hearing aid benefits for people on Medicare. His ideas for vision and dental care weren’t included.
The Affordable Care Act is complemented by expanded health care programs that provide subsidies to people who want insurance coverage and policies in areas where Obamacare has been discontinued.
The new package creates political problems in the future. The majority of funding for healthcare will be cut in 2025. It is a major campaign issue that could become a hot topic before next year’s presidential election. The child care tax credit expires alongside next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress will be determined.
Democrats are unable, despite multiple deadlines to do so, while Republicans have overwhelmingly opposed the agreement. The best that Democrats can do is send Biden abroad with a deal and open the door to the rest of the details.
Associated PressThis report was written by Zeke Miller and Colleen Long. Farnoush Amiri (Farnoush Amiri), Kevin Freking, Padmanandarama, and Kevin Freking contributed.