Biden announces $1.85 trillion framework for climate and safety net plan

The New York Times
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US President Joe Biden addresses a press conference in Washington Photograph:(AFP)

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Biden was pushing to convince liberal members that a final compromise was close enough to allow them to support a separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate, and House leaders were pressing Democrats to vote for the public works legislation later Thursday

President Joe Biden announced Thursday a revised framework to try to pass a $1.85 trillion social safety net bill and a $1 trillion infrastructure measure, just hours before he leaves for a six-day European trip to meet with world leaders.

“After months of tough and thoughtful negotiations, I think we have — I know we have — a historic economic framework,” the president said. “This framework includes historic investments in our nation, and in our people.”

Biden delivered his remarks from the White House after returning from Capitol Hill, where he pleaded with Democratic lawmakers to put aside their differences and vote for both measures as a way of advancing their common agenda.

He did not explicitly say that the Democrats on Capitol Hill had all agreed to back his new framework, and several key lawmakers in his party issued statements that pointedly did not say they were promising to vote for it.

Biden was pushing to convince liberal members that a final compromise was close enough to allow them to support a separate $1 trillion infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate, and House leaders were pressing Democrats to vote for the public works legislation later Thursday.

At the Capitol, Biden framed the success of his push as crucial, saying its fate would help determine that of his presidency and his party’s hold on Congress, and could restore the nation’s standing on the world stage.

But liberals were still not satisfied with a plan that was clearly still unfinished even as Biden hailed its components.

“What I would say is you have the outline of a very significant piece of legislation — I want us to make it better,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the Budget Committee chair.

It remains unclear how quickly votes could take place, and there remains deep mistrust between progressives in the House and Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two centrist holdouts who have forced deep cuts in the president’s proposals.

Biden expressed confidence Thursday that those differences had been ironed out after several months of intensive negotiations, as well as last-minute discussions that stretched into the night Wednesday.

“No one got everything they wanted, including me,” he said. “But that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on.”

In a statement, Sinema stopped substantially short of promising support, although she sounded an upbeat note on the talks.

“After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package,” she said.

Manchin did not commit to supporting it either, saying only, “It’s in the hands of the House.”

But one person close to both senators said they had privately indicated that they support Biden’s framework, even as key details remained to be worked out.

The package is considerably more modest than the cradle-to-grave expansion of the safety net that the president initially envisioned. But the provisions for young children would offer a significant boost to middle-class families that have struggled for decades with economic uncertainty. They include universal preschool for more than 6 million 3- and 4-year-olds and subsidies for child care that would limit costs to no more than 7% of income for most families. Funding for both of those provisions would last for six years.

It includes about $555 billion for programs to move Americans to electric vehicles and entice utilities away from natural gas and coal, representing what would be the largest federal investment in combating climate change.

Democratic leaders were keen to hand the president a victory before he departed for Europe this week. The president planned to attend a climate summit on Sunday in Scotland, where he hoped to point to the deal as evidence of the United States’ commitment to tackling climate change.

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

Democrats also hoped the agreement would be enough to persuade the House’s most liberal members that Congress was on the verge of passing a truly progressive package and that those liberals, in turn, would join more moderate and conservative Democrats to send the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill to Biden for his signature.

Liberal members of the House and Senate had plenty to lament. The center piece of Biden’s climate policy, a measure to reward utilities for switching to renewable energy and to punish those that will not was stripped out at Manchin’s insistence. One of the biggest social policies in the original package, a $500 billion federal paid family and medical leave benefit, is also gone.

An anticipated expansion of Medicare to cover vision, dental and hearing care was down to just hearing. A proposed tax on the wealth of billionaires was also out, 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 go unfulfilled, and the expanded child tax credit, passed in March to give most families a $300-per-child monthly income support, would be extended only into 2023, not made permanent.

Among the provisions that survived were federal programs for home health care and community care for older Americans and people with disabilities. The framework also contains $150 billion for rental assistance, homebuying help, public housing repairs and other affordable housing programs.