US spending deal shifts focus to Democrats' divides

Biden’s $1.75 trillion gambit shifts focus to Democrats’ divides

The president told House Democrats that his future, and theirs, depends on translating the framework into agreed legislative text and getting it passed

US President Joe Biden. Credit: Reuters File Photo

By Josh Wingrove, Billy House and Jennifer Jacobs,

President Joe Biden delivered a framework for the latest version of his economic agenda to congressional Democrats on Thursday, drawing widespread praise within the party but leaving many details yet to be filled in.

Biden delayed his departure for a series of meetings in Europe to rally his party behind the $1.75 trillion outline, scaled back from a previous $3.5 trillion proposal. Even as Democrats welcomed it as a break in the months-long stalemate over the president’s agenda, some angled to jam back in priorities such as family leave that were left out.

The president told House Democrats that his future, and theirs, depends on translating the framework into agreed legislative text and getting it passed.

Also Read | Biden announces $1.75 trillion US spending deal ahead of Europe trip

“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week,” Biden told House Democrats during a private meeting at the Capitol, according to three people in the room.

As Biden left for his European summit meetings, House Democrats released a rough draft of legislation to enact the plan, but then adjourned until next week. It likely will take days or even weeks before legislation is ready for a vote. 

‘Transformational’ Bill

Progressives in the House largely embraced Biden’s $1.75 trillion tax and spending plan but continue to hold up the other piece of his economic agenda — a $550 billion infrastructure bill — until both bills are ready for a vote. 

“This is a significant set of investments that will be transformational for people,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said. “We intend to vote for both bills when the text is ready.”

That’s a reflection of the lack of trust between liberals and two moderate Democrats in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- who through protracted negotiations with Biden have whittled down his plan and left some progressive priorities by the wayside. Neither gave their explicit endorsement of Biden’s framework, even though it appeared to meet most of their demands.

Sinema met Thursday afternoon with Jayapal and Senator Brian Schatz. She said little afterward, except that they “made progress.” Jayapal called it “a great meeting. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

Manchin abruptly brushed aside questions about whether he supported the framework. “We’re working in good faith, how is that?” he said.

The Biden plan, known as Build Back Better, includes provisions Democrats called unprecedented that would combat climate-change measures, universal preschool for three- and four-year-olds, subsidies for most Americans’ childcare costs and the creation or expansion of other social-welfare programs. It’s offset by tax increases and other revenue measures totalling about $2 trillion, according to a White House fact sheet.

“Any single element of this framework would be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said in remarks at the White House after leaving the Capitol. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.” 

Biden’s plea

In his comments to House Democrats, Biden urged them to quickly clear the infrastructure measure for his signature. The White House wants the president to have a legislative accomplishment in hand in advance of both international summits in Rome and Glasgow, Scotland, this weekend and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia on Nov. 2.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had moved Thursday morning to potentially set up a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill later in the day. But progressives said they wouldn’t vote for it. Pelosi, having no margin of error, relented and didn’t force the issue. The House Thursday night passed another temporary extension of highway funding to give time for work on the larger package to proceed. 

Some progressives expressed anger that she would try to ram through a vote on the infrastructure bill before an agreement on the larger plan is put on paper. House progressives Juan Vargas of California and Cori Bush of Missouri said after a meeting among their caucus that they would not vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill until the other legislation is ready.

“I felt a little bit bamboozled,” Bush said. “This was not what I thought was coming today.”

Biden assured the House lawmakers that the framework the White House released Thursday would win the votes of all 50 Senate Democrats. But several of them declined to commit to it.

“The administration may have negotiated with Sinema and Manchin. They’ve got to get 48 other people,” said New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. 

SALT cap

Like many other northeast Democrats, he wants the legislation to include at least a partial reversal of a Trump-era cap on federal income tax deductions for state and local tax payments.

“The framework is not a final product as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota urged liberals in the House to continue to block action on the infrastructure measure, saying it wasn’t clear 50 senators would support Build Back Better as outlined.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he’s still negotiating to add provisions to regulate prescription drug prices and to tax billionaires’ unrealised capital gains.

Separately, some House Democrats are demanding the Build Back Better legislation also include an immigration overhaul that would give undocumented people in the US greater protections against deportation. The White House framework allows for such a program, but it isn’t clear if Senate rules would permit new immigration policies in the bill.

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