U.S. President Joe Biden held a crucial private meeting with two key senators Sunday as he races to complete the details of a pared-down social safety net and climate control spending plan set for introduction in Congress as soon as Monday.
The president hosted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at his home in (the northeastern city of) Wilmington, Delaware, along with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of two pivotal lawmakers in Biden’s own Democratic party who has called for sharp cutbacks in the president’s original $3.5 trillion plan proposing the biggest expansion of government benefits to American families in five decades.
A statement by the White House press office says the three men held a “productive discussion of the Build Back Better Agenda,” the formal name of Biden’s so-called “human infrastructure” plan, “including equipping Americans to get back to work and making our economy deliver for the middle class — not just those at the top.”
The statement said the trio “continued to make progress” and agreed to remain “in close touch with each other and the wide range of members who have worked hard on these negotiations.”
With the 100-member Senate equally split between Republicans and Democrats, the policy agreement and votes of Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two most moderate members of the Democratic caucus, are key to passage of the legislation, along with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Currently, no Republicans support the legislation.
Biden has expressed hope that he can reach agreement this week on what he has acknowledged will be a more limited spending plan of about $2 trillion or less, with some provisions, such as two tuition-free years of community college, jettisoned from the final package and others, such as paid worker leave and dental insurance for older Americans, trimmed or delayed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show, that 90% of the measure “is agreed to” and that it is being written Sunday, with final details yet to be worked out. She said it will be introduced on Monday.
“We’re pretty much there now,” she said.
Pelosi said that despite the likelihood that the original Biden spending proposal will be roughly cut in half, it will be “bigger than anything we’ve ever done in terms of helping families,” with extended tax credits for all but the wealthiest parents and universal pre-kindergarten schooling for three- and four-year-old children.
As details of the social safety net plan are finalized, the House leader said her plan is for the chamber to vote later this week on a bipartisan trillion-dollar infrastructure measure already approved by the Senate to fix the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and expand broadband internet service throughout the United States.
“I’m optimistic we can do that,” she said.
The infrastructure spending plan drew the support of 19 Republicans in the Senate, along with that of all 50 Democrats, but progressive Democrats in the House blocked its passage there until agreement could be reached on the social safety net legislation.
Representative Ro Khanna of California, a key member of the House Progressive Caucus, told “Fox News Sunday” that the president recently told a group of lawmakers that he needs passage of both the social safety net bill and a separate $1.2 trillion measure that funds key upgrades to the nation’s physical infrastructure before he travels to Glascow, Scotland next week for the United Nations-sponsored COP26 climate conference.
Biden had proposed raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals earning more than $400,000 a year to pay for his social safety net measure, but Sinema has balked at both. That has left the White House and Democrats supporting the Biden spending plan to scramble to find other ways to pay for it.
Pelosi said, “We have an array” of other ways to pay for the measure, including a so-called “wealth tax” targeting the estimated 700 U.S. billionaires. “We’re going to fully pay for the bill.”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNN the legislation would take aim at “exceptionally wealthy individuals” and likely tax their unrealized capital gains that now are only taxed when they sell assets. She said tax payment enforcement would also be ramped up to collect more revenue.
Source: Voice of America