Social policy ‘framework’ fails to guarantee Biden victory

WASHINGTON – President Biden on Thursday unveiled an outline for a social safety net and a $ 1.85 trillion environmental bill, imploring Democrats to put aside their differences and adopt a plan to to provide a universal preschool, generous support for childcare costs and the biggest investment ever to fight the currency climate.

But his call for Democrats to unite and grant him a long-delayed victory over his national platform fell flat, as the Liberals demanded assurances that the package would survive before agreeing to an immediate vote on a project. a separate $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill. This left Mr Biden empty-handed as he left for Europe, where he had hoped to highlight progress on both measures as proof that American democracy still works.

On Thursday evening, as Mr. Biden headed for Rome aboard Air Force One, the House Progressive Caucus had slammed the door on the prospect of an early victory.

“Members of our caucus will not vote for the infrastructure bill without the Build Back Better Act,” the group said in a joint statement, using the name of the presidential climate and social policy bill. .

It would provide preschool for more than six million children aged 3 and 4, subsidies for child care and health care, monthly payments for families with children and $ 555 billion for programs aimed at to wean Americans off fossil fuels.

The drama of the day on Capitol Hill immediately fleshed out the details of the legislation that President Nancy Pelosi called “spectacular” and highlighted the deep loopholes and pits of mistrust within the party that Mr Biden and the Main Democrats did. have not been able to overcome.

The president joined House Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, hoping that by personally detailing his framework and projecting his confidence into a compromise, he could cover outstanding differences over what should be in the plan. This, he hoped, would take off the infrastructure bill, which was passed by the Senate in August but has been held captive in the House by Liberals demanding their legislative priorities: social policy and climate change.

Mr Biden delayed his departure for Europe to plead for a victory.

“We have a cadre who will get 50 votes in the United States Senate,” Biden privately told House Democrats, according to a person familiar with his words. “I don’t think it’s too much to say that the majorities in the House and Senate and my presidency will be determined by what happens next week.”

But while the president found plenty of support for his plan – the main elements of which were still being debated even as he presented it – he left for Rome with the two strands of his national program still hanging in limbo. Congress divided.

The Liberals said they trusted Mr Biden to deliver his plan, but that sentiment did not extend to Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, crucial centrist refractories whose concerns forced Democrats to cut the package and get rid of some of the left’s top priorities. The couple have privately told associates that they support the president’s latest proposal, but neither has publicly pledged to support it. Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat from Missouri, said she felt “a little bamboozled”.

Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema, in turn, have privately maintained that they will not be forced to accept social policy and climate legislation by House liberals who are delaying their infrastructure bill. Ms Pelosi expressed her exasperation after relaying the highway and public transport programs that were due to expire on October 31 without a vote on infrastructure. “It’s professional,” she said dryly. “Let’s do it in a timely manner and leave no doubt.”

Instead, the House on Thursday evening approved a short-term extension of these programs by a vote of 358 to 59, a sign that passage of both the infrastructure bill and the domestic policy plan may be far off.

But in a statement, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the administration remained confident the two bills would soon become law.

The President’s cadre, while considerably more modest than the cradle-to-grave expansion of the safety net he initially envisioned, could still be legitimately hailed as transformational. Provisions for young children would offer a significant boost to middle-class families who have struggled for decades with economic uncertainty. Preschool would be made available to more than six million children aged 3 and 4. Childcare subsidies would limit costs to no more than 7 percent of income for most families. Funding for these two provisions would last six years.

It includes about $ 555 billion for programs to get Americans to electric vehicles and move utilities away from natural gas and coal, which would be what would be the biggest federal investment in the fight against climate change. . A new Civilian Climate Corps would be created.

And it would be paid largely by the rich, in part thanks to a new surtax on the income of multimillionaires and a minimum tax of 15% on the largest corporations, levied on the profits they claim to their shareholders, not on the profits they minimize for the benefit of the IRS

In public remarks at the White House, Biden called the plan “historic.”

“No one got everything they wanted, including me,” he said in the East Room before leaving for Rome. “But that’s the compromise. This is the consensus. And that’s what I ran on.

But that was not enough to break the progressive blockade of the infrastructure bill. The Liberals correctly noted that some important provisions of the framework were still under negotiation, including tax measures to pay for it, price controls on prescription drugs and immigration measures.

House Democrats published 1,684 pages of what they said was the legislative text of the Build Back Better Act, but Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, told reporters Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York City has given Senators an extra week to fight over provisions left out of the frame.

And, the Liberals said, the two senators most likely to bring down the social policy measure, Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin, were less than solid in their pledges to vote yes.

“After months of productive and good faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation plan,” Sinema said in a statement.

Mr. Manchin said only: “It is in the hands of the House.

With his approval ratings dropping and the economy returning to a pandemic-induced downturn, Mr Biden is badly in need of a win. Almost a month ago, he went to Capitol Hill facing the same impasse over the infrastructure bill and canceled a vote to give more time to negotiations on social policy and climate legislation.

He was back on Thursday in an even more precarious political situation. Inflation is on the rise and growth slowed to 0.5% in the last quarter. A loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race on Tuesday would be seen as a harbinger of Democratic losses in next year’s midterm election.

“Do your job,” Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe told Congress on CNN Thursday. “Pass this through. “

Mr Biden told lawmakers the final passage of the bipartisan bill for the construction of roads, bridges and tunnels; promote rural broadband; and starting the country’s transition to electric vehicles would help convince European leaders that democracy can still work. “The rest of the world is wondering if we can function,” he privately told House Democrats.

“We absolutely need a vote on these two measures,” Biden added.

But the Liberals wanted more than talking points on a plan that was clearly still unfinished even as Mr. Biden praised its components.

“You have the outline of a very important bill,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the budget committee whose views prevail over the Liberals in the House. “I want us to make it better.”

The Democratic leaders had been keen to offer the president a victory to take abroad. The president was planning to attend a climate summit in Scotland on Monday, where he hoped to point to the deal as proof of the United States’ commitment to tackle climate change.

“When the president gets off that plane, we want him to get a vote of confidence from this Congress,” Pelosi told Democrats at the private meeting, according to the person familiar with the session.

Liberal members of the House and Senate had a lot to celebrate under the President, even after their original 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion plan was shrunk to a set just over half that size. Among the provisions that have survived were federal home health and community care programs for elderly Americans and people with disabilities; $ 150 billion for rent assistance, home buying assistance, public housing repairs and other affordable housing programs; and a generous extension of subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to the Working Poor in 12 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Health Act.

But there was also something to complain about. The centerpiece of Mr Biden’s climate policy – a measure to reward utilities for switching to renewables and punish those who won’t – has been removed at Mr Manchin’s insistence. One of the most important social policies of the original program, a $ 500 billion federal allowance for family and medical leave, has also disappeared.

A planned Medicare extension to cover vision, dental and hearing care was limited to hearing. An innovative tax on the fortune of billionaires was also released, in favor of a surtax on multimillionaires that would hit income but not their mountains of wealth.

The promise of two years of free community college would not be kept, and the expanded child tax credit, passed in March to give most families a monthly check of up to $ 300 per child, would not be extended. until 2023, and not permanent.

Wisconsin Democrat Representative Mark Pocan pointed to Manchin and Sinema as the reason compromises needed to be made.

“This is not all we had hoped for, not what the President had hoped for when he had a $ 6 trillion package,” he said. “But you know the president has told us many times that he’s still committed to this agenda, so we’re going to do it now. As long as he’s president, as long as we try to lean on the Senate – maybe be not having to worry about two members all the time – we will also have the opportunity to do other parts of his schedule. “

Catie edmondson and Jim Tankersley contributed reports.

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