Democrats weigh in on downsizing or downscaling programs to slash $ 3.5 trillion bill
WASHINGTON – As Democrats strive to unite around far-reaching social policy and a bill, they are weighing two different approaches to lowering its overall cost: eliminating proposed programs altogether or reducing their duration .
For months, Democrats aimed to spend $ 3.5 trillion over a decade on legislation, which proposes to expand or create many education, health and climate programs. Centrists oppose such a high turnover, questioning whether the funding could be funded by tax increases and raising concerns about the impact of spending on inflation.
President Biden told House Democrats on Friday he expects the overall cost to eventually reach between $ 1.9 trillion and $ 2.3 trillion after negotiations with the centrists, people say familiar with his words.
To reach this new spending bracket, some Democrats, including the progressives who supported the $ 3.5 trillion level, are in favor of a reduction in the proposed spending schedule, while others, including some centrists, want concentrate funds on a smaller number of programs.
“There are two options,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.). “You can take songs out, or you can start a song in year 2, rather than year 1. Or you do it for five years, not 10, and count on it being so popular that when you come back. in sixth grade, of course, we’ll want to do that.
Choosing which option to pursue – or whether to pursue a combination of the two – will become a central issue for Democrats in the days and weeks to come and could force tough choices on cherished goals. Among the many measures, lawmakers aim to extend a recently expanded child tax credit, create a new national paid vacation program and push utilities to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
Top House Democrats repeatedly delayed a vote last week on a roughly $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill that had already passed the Senate, as progressives insisted on pushing through first to an agreement on social policy and the climate bill. Instead, Congress approved over the weekend a 30-day extension to transportation programs that would have been reauthorized in the infrastructure bill but lapsed on October 1. The extension put Democrats on a new timetable to resolve their intra-party differences.
Mr Biden told reporters on Saturday that while “everyone is frustrated” with the process, he said both bills should pass. “There is no reason why these two bills cannot be passed independently, except that there are no votes to do it that way. It’s a simple proposition, ”he said. “I support them both, and I think we can do both of them.”
Some Democrats see social policy and the climate bill as their only opportunity to tackle the scale of the party’s platform while controlling both the White House and Congress, which some say could fall into the hands of Republicans after next year’s midterm elections.
Republicans have been broadly united in their opposition, focusing much of their criticism on proposed tax increases to cover the funding. Democrats are thus pursuing the social policy and climate bill through a process called budget reconciliation, which allows them to move the legislation forward with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than the 60 usually required.
Simultaneous adoption of measures in policy areas ranging from tax credits for electric vehicles to lowering the price of prescription drugs is a way to address many of the party’s favored concerns ahead of the election, even if those measures would expire. in a few years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) Said last week Democrats would negotiate to shorten the schedule of programs proposed in the bill to reduce the overall cost.
“If it’s a shorter period or something like that, that’s an issue we’ll deal with,” she told reporters.
Putting the programs in place for just a few years would put pressure on legislators on both sides to renew them in the future, spreading the cost of funding the programs over several pieces of legislation over several years. Some centrists said such a tactic is just a way to hide the true cost of the bill and instead pushed for a smaller set of programs.
“These programs will never end,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), a key centrist in the talks. “Once you start to do something, it becomes embedded in it. “
Mr Manchin, who said he wanted the legislation to be capped at $ 1.5 trillion, also pushed for programs to target only low-income Americans in order to reduce overall spending.
Congress previously delayed expiration of tax cuts, before removing them for nearly all taxpayers, or made permanent elements of earlier bills that were scheduled to expire. Republicans are already arguing that Congress will have to expand the provisions of the 2017 tax law that will expire after 2025, including a larger standard deduction.
To hit the $ 3.5 trillion price tag, Democrats scheduled funding priorities on a temporary basis. For example, legislation drafted by House Democrats funded the expanded child tax credit for an additional four years, two years of community college for five years, the child care provisions for six years, and the universal preschool for seven years.
Lawmakers may consider shortening the timelines for these and other programs, including a proposal for paid family leave, to a smaller expense figure, according to assistants.
Some Democrats are pushing for their preferred priorities to receive stronger support in legislation. Representative Suzan DelBene (D., Washington), chair of the NDP moderate coalition, said Democrats should focus their resources on the expanded child tax credit and avoid uncertainty over whether the program will continue. in the future.
“The worst part would be to kind of say that we’re going to do a little bit of everything, so we have to do it right, so we have to choose what we do well and make sure that we do a solid job there,” she declared.
Other Democrats see the start of many new programs as a way to build public support for the measures and move forward on a range of policy goals at once, at the risk that future Congresses will let them expire.
“Here is the key question: how do you get financing for a long time? And the way is to make it big enough, universal enough and important enough that the people demand it continue, ”said Representative Andy Levin (D., Mich.), Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“Life is a gamble. We’re only here for a little while, for a little while,” he said.
Write to Andrew Duehren at [email protected]
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