Democrats meet to discuss deal on social policy bill

Written By: Emily Cochrane ©️ 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
Washington Published: Oct 27, 2021, 12:46 AM(IST)

US Capitol Photograph:( AFP )

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told Democrats they were on “the verge of something major,” according to two people familiar with her comments, who disclosed the private remarks on condition of anonymity. She called the legislation “transformative, historic and bigger than anything else.”

Democrats met privately on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as they searched for an elusive compromise on a domestic policy and climate package, pressing to resolve crucial disagreements over health benefits, paid leave, environmental provisions and how to pay for the entire plan.

As Democrats seek to pacify key centrist holdouts balking at central pieces of the bill, party leaders are lobbying rank-and-file lawmakers, particularly liberals, to accept a measure that will be far smaller than an initial $3.5 trillion blueprint that passed Congress earlier this year. House Democrats huddled Tuesday morning to discuss the negotiations at their weekly caucus meeting, while Senate Democrats were expected to continue privately meeting throughout the day on climate and tax provisions.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California told Democrats they were on “the verge of something major,” according to two people familiar with her comments, who disclosed the private remarks on condition of anonymity. She called the legislation “transformative, historic and bigger than anything else.”

Leaving the caucus meeting, Pelosi said “there’s not that much more time — we have to have decisions largely today, a little bit into tomorrow, so we can proceed.” Asked about what was left on the negotiating table, she said, “I think it’s pretty self-evident.”

The caucus concluded shortly before 10:30 a.m. Pelosi and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, were set to meet Tuesday afternoon as talks continue over the plan, according to an aide.

The White House and congressional leaders hope for a deal on the expansive plan this week, before President Joe Biden leaves Thursday for a trip that includes a United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where he is expected to call for stronger international action to counter to the toll of climate change. His case could be bolstered by an agreement on a new social policy bill that includes strong new climate programs.

“It changes the lives of the American people,” Biden said of the proposed legislation during an appearance at a transit maintenance facility in Kearny, New Jersey, on Monday, where he promoted the plan’s payments to families with children and child care assistance. “So let’s get this done — let’s move.”

But with Republicans uniformly opposed to the bill, Democrats cannot afford to lose even a single vote in the evenly divided Senate, giving any senator outsized power to sink the plan over a single provision. That has further complicated the effort to muscle the bill through Congress using a special budget process known as reconciliation that shields it from a filibuster.

The emerging compromise could spend around $1.75 trillion over 10 years, though leading Democrats were trying to nudge Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key centrist, closer to $2 trillion. Manchin and other moderates have resisted significant pieces of the plan, including environmental provisions, health care expansions and tax increases designed to pay for the spending.

Manchin, in particular, has balked at multiple climate provisions, in part as a defense of his coal-heavy state. He has effectively jettisoned a proposed $150 billion program that would replace coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind and solar power, and is now pushing to remove or modify a provision that would impose a fee on emissions of methane, commonly produced in coal mining.

He is also facing pressure from his colleagues over his resistance to two key expansions of health care benefits and a new paid leave program. He has so far opposed a push, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chair of the Budget Committee, to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits, citing the program’s financial instability.

And he has also expressed concerns about a push to cover a Medicaid expansion for the dozen states whose leaders have refused to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. West Virginia is among the states that expanded Medicaid and pay 10% of the cost, and Manchin has said the proposal would in essence reward states for holding out.

The Senate Finance Committee is readying the details of a billionaires’ tax, an entirely new approach to taxing wealth, and other tax provisions that will help pay for the bill without increasing the corporate or individual tax rates. While House Democrats were expressing concerns about the details of the plan, which is largely being crafted by their Senate counterparts, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key holdout on the bill, has remained opposed to those rate increases.

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