President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders raced Monday to strike a compromise on a sprawling domestic policy plan, pushing for a vote within days even as a number of key sticking points remained on health care benefits, paid leave and how to pay for the package.
The White House and top Democrats hoped to reach an accord with key centrist holdouts before Mr. Biden departs later this week for a United Nations climate conference in Glasgow that begins on Sunday, where he plans to push for a stronger international response to counter global warming and climate change.
Mr. Biden told reporters that he was aiming for a deal on the package before his trip, which is scheduled to begin Thursday in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 economic summit.
“That’s my hope,” the president said Monday as he departed for New Jersey, where he planned to promote the social safety net, climate and tax increase package, expected to cost up to $2 trillion.
“It would be very, very positive to get it done before the trip,” he added.
Democrats were also facing time pressure to approve a $1 trillion, Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill whose fate is tied to the broader domestic policy bill. Its enactment could hand the party a popular legislative achievement days before crucial elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey on Nov. 2. Passage of that bill would also stave off the expiration of a series of transportation programs and furloughs for nearly 4,000 federal workers that are set to lapse on Sunday.
Liberals have so far refused to vote for the infrastructure measure until a deal is reached on the far more expansive package, despite mounting pressure from their centrist colleagues.
But a number of outstanding issues remain over the details of the plan, which is facing unified Republican opposition and must draw the support of every Democratic senator and nearly every member of the party in the House.
Mr. Biden and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, huddled over the weekend with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a crucial holdout on the measure who has pressed to keep the package to no more than $1.5 trillion, even as the president and other Democrats have worked to nudge the price tag higher. They are also discussing how to beef up climate provisions in the legislation, after Mr. Manchin, a longtime defender of his state’s coal industry, rejected a $150 billion clean electricity program that had been the core of the plan’s bid to reduce emissions.
Mr. Manchin is also among the lawmakers who have expressed concerns with a liberal push, led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Budget Committee, to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits. Mr. Biden, speaking at a CNN town hall last week, floated an $800 voucher to help accommodate that push. Democrats are also still haggling over the duration and details of a push to include a Medicaid expansion, a new paid leave program and an extension of expanded payments for families with children.
Negotiators are also still hammering out the details of how to pay for the package. Because Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another key Democratic holdout on the plan, has rejected increases to corporate and individual tax rates, negotiators are discussing an array of alternatives, including beefing up the I.R.S.’s ability to collect unpaid taxes, a wealth tax on America’s billionaires, a global corporate minimum tax and a tax on what corporations report to shareholders.
Another key financing proposal, a plan to reduce prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, also remains unresolved. Two moderate House Democrats, Representatives Scott Peters of California and Kathleen Rice of New York, rejected a scaled-back plan put forward by White House officials on Friday, and negotiators were still working to find a compromise.
Democrats are also still trying to hammer out the details of a limit on how much can be deducted in state and local taxes, a longtime priority of Mr. Schumer and lawmakers from high-income states like New York and New Jersey.
Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said on Monday that a compromise framework on President Biden’s sprawling domestic policy package should be reached by the end of the week, even as he acknowledged he had a number of unresolved concerns about its policy details.
Speaking to reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill on Monday, Mr. Manchin, a key centrist holdout, said he had not budged from a $1.5 trillion price tag, even as Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders push for him to accept a larger package. He added that he still had concerns with a push to expand health care benefits as part of the plan, a priority for his colleagues, even as he said “conceptually, we should” have a deal by the end of the week.
“I’m not going to talk about what’s in and what’s out right now, because there’s an awful lot of moving parts,” Mr. Manchin said. “But there’s a lot of concerns, we have a lot of different things — we’re just looking at how we put it together.”
The comments came after Mr. Biden said that his talks with Mr. Manchin over the weekend “went well” and that he hoped to finish a deal before traveling overseas for the Group of 20 summit and a U.N. climate conference.
Mr. Biden made the remarks after huddling with key Democrats on Sunday to iron out spending and tax provisions on expansive social safety net legislation that have deeply divided the party and imperiled his agenda,
Mr. Biden met with Senators Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Mr. Manchin in Wilmington, Del., where he spent the weekend. The White House called the breakfast at Mr. Biden’s home a “productive discussion,” in a readout late Sunday.
Negotiators on Sunday were still haggling over a number of outstanding pieces, including the details of a federal paid family and medical leave program — already cut to four weeks from 12 weeks — Medicaid expansion and a push to expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision and hearing, which Mr. Manchin has resisted including. With Mr. Manchin pushing for a $1.5 trillion price tag, Democratic officials are urging for him to accept more spending in order to avoid dropping other programs.
“I believe that government should be your best partner, but it shouldn’t be your provider,” Mr. Manchin said on Monday. “We have a moral obligation to provide to those who have incapacity, such as physical or mental, but everyone else should be able to help and chip in and all that. So that’s my mind-set.”
Liberals are also worried about the package’s ability to sufficiently address the toll of climate change, particularly after Mr. Biden publicly conceded that a $150 billion program to more quickly transition to clean energy would be altered because of fervent opposition from Mr. Manchin, in part because the program would use penalties to help encourage the transition.
“Joe is open to my convincing him that I can use it to increase environmental progress without it being that particular deal,” Mr. Biden said during the CNN town hall.
Mr. Manchin, speaking to reporters Monday, said talks were currently centered on tax credits and other ways to incentivize people to transition to clean energy instead of relying on people to “penalize yourself” to establish a cleaner environment.
President Biden flew to New Jersey on Monday morning to champion his efforts to pass legislation investing in early childhood education and passenger rail service. But the backdrop will highlight a still-simmering dispute among Democrats that is hampering Mr. Biden’s legislative agenda: whether to lift the limit on a tax deduction that largely benefits high earners in states like New Jersey.
Democrats — including the president, party leaders in the House and Senate and key factions of moderates and progressives in both chambers — are negotiating a package to spend an estimated $2 trillion or less on tax cuts and spending programs for child care, education, climate change and more.
A group of House Democrats from New Jersey have insisted that the package must include a change to the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, which Republicans capped at $10,000 per taxpayer in order to help pay for their 2017 tax cut package. With a slim majority in the House, Mr. Biden cannot afford to lose more than three Democratic votes there in order for the bill to pass.
The SALT limit resulted in tax increases for some Americans, particularly higher earners from high-tax states, and helped Democrats capture some House seats previously held by Republicans in New Jersey, California and elsewhere. Many of those representatives are pushing to lift the cap now, a move that would likely amount to a tax cut for some high earners, at a time when Democrats are seeking to offset other revenue losses in the bill by raising taxes on corporations and the rich.
Negotiators have not yet reached agreement on a SALT provision. A big factor is the price of any potential change to the cap. It could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, which would put further pressure on Democrats to cut other spending programs in a bill that is shrinking dramatically from the president’s initial proposals, aiming to satisfy demands of centrists including Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. But it remains a top priority for representatives like Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Monday morning that Democrats have reached the point where they are negotiating “the nitty-gritty of the details” in the package and that Mr. Biden hopes to reach a deal before he leaves for an economic summit in Rome later this week.
“We have a strong base of agreement,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “We’re continuing to negotiate. We’re almost there.”
White House officials and Democratic leaders are narrowing a provision to control the rising cost of prescription drugs, hoping to give Medicare the power to negotiate prices but only on a narrow list of medications.
The plan was presented late last week to Representatives Scott Peters of California and Kathleen Rice of New York, two of three House Democrats who oppose a much broader plan to empower the government to negotiate virtually all prescription drug prices for older Americans on Medicare. With Democratic majorities in the House and Senate so narrow, opponents of that broader plan have more than enough votes to bring down the larger social safety net and climate change bill that would include the drug plan. But some measure to control costs is necessary, in part, to pay for the spending.
Two people familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the House members did not reject the compromise out of hand, but they are still balking at one particular issue. They want government price negotiations confined only to medications that have outlived their patent protections, when competitors would be allowed to come in with generic versions. White House officials maintain that would make negotiating power pointless.
The Democratic opponents want the prescription drug provision to focus on other ways to control costs, including new caps on out-of-pocket medication expenditures for seniors and a bipartisan proposal to force drugmakers to offer rebates when the cost of medicine rises faster than inflation. Mr. Peters has said those two provisions, plus very narrow negotiating power, would still save the government about $300 billion a year while offering tangible savings to politically sensitive older voters.
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