Biden, Democrats push for budget deal this week as loopholes persist


WASHINGTON – President Biden and Democratic Congressional leaders rushed to find a compromise on a domestic policy and climate package on Monday, pushing for a vote in the days that followed even as critical disagreements remained over health benefits, paid vacations, environmental provisions and how to pay for staggering. plan.

Negotiators moved closer to a deal that could spend around $ 1.75 trillion over 10 years, half the size of the project Democrats approved earlier this year, as they bargained with centrist refractories from their party lobbying to reduce the size of the bill.

They rallied around a plan that would extend monthly payments to families with children, establish generous tax incentives for clean energy use, and provide federal support for child care, senior care. and universal preschool. A series of tax increases, including a new wealth tax for the country’s billionaires, would fund the initiatives.

But a final deal has remained elusive amid disputes over details of potential Medicare and Medicaid extensions, a new paid family and medical leave program, climate change programs and a proposal to cut back. the cost of prescription drugs. Top Democrats were also working to push the price up to $ 2 trillion, still well below the $ 3.5 trillion level they had forecast in their budget plan.

Introducing a new wrinkle in the talks, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, a centrist who led the effort to cut the bill, was pushing to remove or change a provision that would impose a levy on methane emissions, a powerful planet – a warming pollutant escaping from oil and gas wells, according to two people familiar with the negotiations.

Mr Manchin has already removed the most powerful provision from the climate change package, a proposed $ 150 billion program that would replace coal and gas-fired power plants with wind and solar power, though that money could be reassigned.

With Republicans uniformly opposed to the bill, Democrats cannot afford to lose even a single Senate vote 50-50, giving any senator the power to defeat the very plan. on a single layout. This has complicated the task Mr. Biden and the party leaders face as they prepare to push the bill through Congress using a special budget process known as reconciliation that shields it from harm. obstruction.

Administration officials and Democratic leaders were hoping to strike a deal before Mr Biden appears at a UN climate conference in Glasgow that begins on Sunday, when he is expected to push for a stronger international response to fight against global warming. Mr Biden, who visited New Jersey on Monday to promote the legislation, told reporters it would be “very, very positive to do this before the trip.”

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“It changes the lives of the American people,” Biden said during an appearance at a transit maintenance facility in Kearny, New Jersey, where he promoted payments to families with children and the childcare assistance in the plan. “So let’s do it – let’s get moving. “

The president also called for the swift passage of a stalled, bipartisan $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill, the passage of which in the House may hinge on an agreement on the reconciliation plan. The liberals refused to support the infrastructure measure until the broader policy package emerges.

Democrats want to pass public works legislation – approved by the Senate over the summer – by Sunday, when a series of transportation programs are due to expire. Its enactment would also give the party a popular legislative success days before the crucial governors’ elections in Virginia and New Jersey on November 2.

But the reconciliation bill, widely regarded as the last major piece of legislation with a chance of passage this year, is a heavy burden.

“No one has ever said that passing a transformational law like this would be easy, but we are on the right track to make it happen,” Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said .

Mr Manchin, who met with Mr Biden and Mr Schumer on Sunday at the president’s home in Wilmington, Del., Remained a driving force behind the talks as he argued his objections to key elements of the plan . He was opposed to the paid vacation program and proposals to expand Medicare and Medicaid, according to officials briefed on the negotiations.

“There are a lot of concerns. We have a lot of different things, ”Manchin told reporters on Monday, saying he was still determined to keep the cost of the package at no more than $ 1.5 trillion. “We’re just looking at how we put it together. “

Mr. Manchin, an advocate for his state’s coal industry, is also the most prominent opponent of key climate change provisions that have long been a priority for the majority of his caucus. His approval of a compromise was seen as vital as Mr Biden prepared to appear on the world stage to promote the United States’ commitment to tackle climate change.

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A spokesperson for Mr. Manchin did not respond to a request for comment on his position on climate provisions. Those briefed on the talks warned details were still evolving.

Mr Manchin is among lawmakers who have expressed concern over a push, led by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is chairman of the Budget Committee, to expand Medicare to include dental, visual and hearing.

“If we are not financially responsible, it is really concerning,” Manchin said on Monday, stressing that he did not want to expand the federal health program for the elderly without addressing its financial stability.

He also expressed concerns about a push to cover a Medicaid extension for the dozen states whose leaders have refused to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. Its inclusion in the plan has been a priority for Democrats who represent most of the southern states, like Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia.

But West Virginia is one of the states that has extended Medicaid and is paying 10% of the cost. Mr Manchin said it would be unfair for the federal government to cover the full costs for states that did not, essentially rewarding them for resisting.

Democrats must also resolve their differences over how to fund the plan, after promising moderates in their ranks that it would be fully paid. Moderates balked at a proposal to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies, prompting negotiators to consider narrower versions of that approach.

Details of the Billionaire Tax, a whole new approach to taxing wealth, were also being worked out, although Main Democrats said it could be released in the coming days. And negotiators were still looking to meet a demand, primarily from lawmakers in New York and New Jersey, to increase the amount of state and local taxes people can deduct from their federal tax bill, which would benefit those who live in high tax states. .

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The proposal, which could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, is a priority for Mr Schumer, as well as for moderate Democrats whose votes are needed to pass the reconciliation bill, including Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. and Tom Suozzi from New York.

Because Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, another centrist resistant to the plan, rejected increases in corporate and personal tax rates, negotiators were discussing a range of alternatives, including the income tax. fortune, a world minimum tax on companies, a tax on what companies declare. to shareholders and strengthen the IRS’s ability to collect unpaid taxes.

“I think we’ll find a way to come together and have the 50 Democrats on board,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is heavily involved in the finance discussion. “We are all trying to go in the same direction.

Republicans, who categorically oppose the domestic policy plan, railed against the new tax proposals under discussion on Monday.

“Our fellow Democrats have become so happy with the tax hike that they throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. “Now they’re talking about rewiring the whole economy after a few days of talking on the back of an envelope. This is a massive and untested change.

Mr. Biden did not address the issue, or the state of the negotiations, directly in his speech. But he highlighted the benefits of his plans, relying heavily on efforts to repair bridges and invest in passenger rail service, with the aim of winning voters in a state where Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat , seeks re-election on November 11. 2.

Mr Biden stopped by an early childhood education center earlier today, as part of an effort to spotlight the plan to provide a federally guaranteed preschool for children aged 3 and 4 years.

Karine Jean-Pierre, spokesperson for the White House, told Air Force One reporters on Monday that the Democrats had reached the point where they were negotiating “the details of the details” of the package.

“We have a solid basis for agreement,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre. “We continue to negotiate. We are almost there.”

Davenport Coral, Jim Tankersley and Margot Sanger Katz contributed reports.