Biden and Democrats negotiate ahead of vote
WASHINGTON (AP) – Pressure is mounting, President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats on Tuesday scrambled to scale down his potentially historic $ 3.5 trillion government overhaul in order to gain support from two key senators on hold before the decisive deadlines for the votes.
With Republicans firmly opposed and no votes to spare, Biden canceled a trip to Chicago on Wednesday that was to focus on COVID-19 vaccinations so he can continue working on a deal, according to a White House official who has obtained anonymity to discuss planning.
Democrats are set to adjust the tax proposals and the huge measure’s spending targets to meet the overall size demanded by party colleagues Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both say Biden’s plan is too big but are publicly silent on a number they can live with.
The president met with them separately on Tuesday at the White House, making apparent progress ahead of a test vote on Thursday.
As the legislation becomes clearer, adjustments will follow – childcare subsidies could be offered for several years, or just a few years. Funding to expand health care programs may start later or end earlier. Tax increases on corporations and the wealthy can be adjusted. And provisions to tackle climate change or lower prescription drug prices could change.
Assuming nothing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill: “In the next few days, we hope to get to a place where we can all move forward.”
The stakes are higher than ever as Biden and his party attempt to accomplish a giant legislative lift, promising a vast rewrite of the country’s fiscal priorities and spending targets with an oh-so-slim majority in Congress.
Biden is under pressure to strike the deal with the Sens centrists. Manchin and Sinema, who are seen as kingpins for the final package.
âReally good, honest and straightforward negotiations,â Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill after his White House meeting with Biden. He said he did not give the president a new number from the first line.
Biden’s problems with his fellow Democrats aren’t limited to the Senate. A small number of House Democrats are also bristling with the broad reach of his national agenda and demanding change.
“We are obviously at a very sensitive time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The president, she said, âis not going to tell anyone what to do. He’s going to have a discussion, to have a commitment.
The closed-door talks come after Republican senators for the second time blocked a bill to keep the government in business after Thursday and allow federal borrowing, risking a federal shutdown and a devastating default – well that both seem highly improbable.
Democrats have said they will try again before Thursday’s deadline to pass a bill to fund government operations after the fiscal year ends on September 30, likely brushing aside the more heated debate over the debt limit. for another day, closer to another October deadline.
Taken together, all of this brings the entire Biden agenda dangerously close to collapse, with consequences that will certainly shape his presidency and the political future of lawmakers.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress in a letter on Tuesday that October 18 was a critical date – when the Treasury Department would likely exhaust all of its âextraordinary measuresâ taken to avoid a default by the government.
Yellen urged Congress to “protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible” to either raise the debt limit or suspend it.
Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes action on the $ 3.5 trillion measure is testing Biden’s grip on his party, as he seeks to rework the country’s balance sheets once in a generation.
Lobbying, Progressives have so far been steadfast in their refusal to accept an expected vote Thursday on a companion bill, a $ 1 trillion public works measure they say is too meager without the most. big package of Biden insured.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said they have the voices to derail the little bill unless it is accompanied by a larger bill from Biden – tacit pressure on the recalcitrant to reach an agreement. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Called for a vote no.
“It won’t be the end of the world on Thursday if we vote against it,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., A member of the Progressive Caucus. He said the House would just wait for the Senate to act on Biden’s plan, “and then we’ll vote again.”
With all Republicans opposed to the big bill, Democratic leaders cannot spare a single vote in the Senate at 50-50, relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie and pass the eventual package.
Physically holding the 2,000-plus-page bill, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming warned that it was an example of “great government socialism.”
âThis bill represents Bernie Sanders’ socialist dream. It’s a nightmare for American taxpayers, âhe said.
Biden insists the price will actually be zero, as the expansion of government programs would be largely funded by higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy – with companies making more than $ 5 million a year and individuals earning over $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples.
To lower the price and win over centrist Democrats, there is no need to cut specific programs, said those familiar with the process.
Rather, lawmakers are considering ways to adjust the scope and duration of some of Biden’s proposals.
For example, instead of more immediately launching the massive expansion of the Medicare program for the elderly by allowing them to receive benefits for vision, dental care and hearing aids, the changes could be spaced out to save money. . Or similarly, funding to expand Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act might have an end date rather than continuing.
The corporate tax increases, proposed from 21% to 26.5% in the House version of Biden’s bill, could change again during talks with Senate Democrats.
Failure to fund all program extensions indefinitely could well be seen as a loss for Democrats. But some see the built-in deadlines as a chance to reconsider the issues – possibly during election years, when both sides can argue their case in front of voters.
Tensions are mounting on Capitol Hill as the outlines of Biden’s grand agenda become clearer along with a Democratic-Republican standoff over normally routine votes to fund the government and prevent a federal debt default.
For a second day on Tuesday, Senate Republicans rejected an effort to ease the country’s debt limit to avoid a dangerous default on its payments for past bills.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell became irritable with reporters when asked about Yellen’s warning that Congress must resolve the issue quickly.
âOf course, the debt ceiling has to be raised,â he said. But he insisted that Democrats shoulder the unpopular vote on their own.
Republicans on Monday rejected Democrats’ efforts to tie the debt ceiling vote to the must-have financing bill to keep the government running.
An infuriated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “It is clear that madness and disaster are now the line of the Republican Party.”
Associated Press editors Kevin Freking, Zeke Miller, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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