Biden's agenda faces critical week as Democrats look for social spending deal

The president hopes to deliver before he leaves the country on Thursday.

October 25, 2021, 4:21 PM

As talks on President Joe Biden's economic agenda reach a critical point this week, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday that he's optimistic Democrats could reach a framework agreement on a social spending package before Biden jets off on an overseas trip Thursday.

"Having it finished with all the t's and i's and everything crossed and dotted, that will be difficult from the Senate side because we have an awful lot of text to go through," Manchin said. "But as far as conceptually we should. I really believe that. I think a framework should be, it really should be."

Manchin, who, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has raised objections to Biden's original $3.5 trillion social spending proposal, met with the president and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over breakfast Sunday afternoon.

"It went well," Biden said Monday. "Few more things to work out but it went well."

It is a critical week for Biden's agenda, and the administration is ratcheting up pressure on congressional Democrats to come to an agreement before Biden leaves the country.

Biden told reporters Monday that "with the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbors," he hopes there will be a deal on the social spending framework by Wednesday.

Democratic leadership is optimistic that, if a deal can be reached, it will be enough to unlock House progressive support for a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that Biden wants to see passed before his departure.

The Senate has already passed the $1 trillion bill which includes funding roads, bridges, waterways, rural broadband and other traditional infrastructure items.

But progressives in the House want assurances that Biden's social spending package will pass before they lend their support to the bipartisan bill.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, N.J., Oct. 25, 2021.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his Build Back Better infrastructure agenda at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny, N.J., Oct. 25, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

On CNN, Pelosi projected that the deal is 90% there. A senior Democratic aide told ABC News that Pelosi hopes to have the bipartisan deal on the floor by mid-week, but all of that is contingent upon Senate Democrats striking a deal on social spending first.

Schumer said Monday there remains "three or four" outstanding issues to work through.

Democrats have struggled mightily to rally around an agreeable price tag for the package but, as of Monday, they've yet to settle on the cost. Biden's ambitious $3.5 trillion budget over 10 years has already been slashed to around $2 trillion, and Manchin on Monday said he still supports, as he long has, a $1.5 trillion price tag. It's unclear if he'd raise his limit.

To bring down the cost of the bill, there have been significant cuts. Democrats abandoned two years of free community college and shortened an extension of the monthly $300 child tax credit to just one year. The amount of paid family leave is also expected to be reduced from 12 weeks to four.

Manchin has also thrown a wrench in the cornerstone policy of Biden's climate proposal, blocking a program that would incentivize utilities to switch to clean energy while penalizing those that don't. Democrats are seeking alternative solutions, including clean energy tax incentives, just as Biden prepares for a climate summit in Scotland.

And Democrats have been at odds over how to fund their package, which they've promised would be paid for, after Sinema objected to tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations.

Democrats are expected to unveil a proposed tax on billionaires later this week, which would tax only the wealthiest Americans. They also say they want to tax overseas earnings and increase IRS enforcement.

Also still being hashed out is how to deal with proposed expansions to Medicare and Medicaid. Progressives want to see coverage for dental, vision and hearing, but Manchin has expressed concerns about the cost.

If Democrats can fashion a solution for these outstanding problems, they stand to deliver Biden a much-needed win as Republicans remain unified against his agenda.

On Monday, Biden renewed his call for urgency.

"The American people have never, ever, ever let their country down," Biden said. "So let's get this done. Let's move."

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