As Democrats Race to Strike Budget Deal This Week, Manchin Expresses Optimism

Source: By Emily Cochrane, New York Times • Posted: Monday, October 25, 2021


Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders raced Monday to strike a compromise on a sprawling domestic policy plan, pushing for a vote within days even as a number of key sticking points remained on health care benefits, paid leave and how to pay for the package.

The White House and top Democrats hope to reach an agreement with centrist holdouts before Mr. Biden departs later this week for a United Nations climate conference that begins on Sunday in Glasgow, where he plans to push for a stronger international response to counter global warming and climate change.

Mr. Biden told reporters that he was aiming for a deal on the package before his trip, which is scheduled to begin Thursday in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 economic summit.

“That’s my hope,” the president said Monday as he left for New Jersey, where he planned to promote the social safety net, climate and tax increase package, expected to cost up to $2 trillion.

“It would be very, very positive to get it done before the trip,” he added.

Democrats are also facing time pressure to approve a $1 trillion, Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill whose fate is tied to the broader domestic policy bill. Its enactment could hand the party a popular legislative achievement days before crucial elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey on Nov. 2. Passage of that bill would also stave off the expiration of a series of transportation programs and furloughs for nearly 4,000 federal workers that are set to lapse on Sunday.

Liberals have so far refused to vote for the infrastructure measure until a deal is reached on the far more expansive package, despite mounting pressure from their centrist colleagues.

But a number of outstanding issues remain over the details of the plan, which is facing unified Republican opposition and must draw the support of every Democratic senator and nearly every member of the party in the House.

Mr. Biden and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, huddled over the weekend with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a crucial holdout who has pressed to keep the package to no more than $1.5 trillion, even as the president and other Democrats have worked to nudge the price tag higher. They are also discussing how to beef up climate provisions in the legislation after Mr. Manchin, a longtime defender of his state’s coal industry, rejected a $150 billion clean electricity program that had been the core of the plan’s bid to reduce emissions.

Mr. Manchin is also among the lawmakers who have expressed concerns with a liberal push, led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Budget Committee, to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing benefits. Mr. Biden, speaking at a CNN town hall last week, floated an $800 voucher to help accommodate that. Democrats are also still haggling over the duration and details of a Medicaid expansion, a new paid leave program and an extension of expanded payments for families with children.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, Mr. Manchin expressed reservations about expanding Medicare without addressing the program’s financial stability, telling reporters, “If we’re not being fiscally responsible, that’s really concerning.”

He also expressed concerns about a push to cover the full expansion of health care for the dozen states whose leaders have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Given that the states that already expanded Medicaid pay 10 percent of the cost of the expansion, Mr. Manchin said he felt it would be unfair for the federal government to cover the entire cost and in essence reward states for holding out. Because of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, there is no way for Congress to force the holdout states to pay 10 percent of the bill against their will.

Negotiators are also still hammering out the details of how to pay for the package. Because Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another Democratic holdout, has rejected increases to corporate and individual tax rates, negotiators are discussing an array of alternatives, including strengthening the I.R.S.’s ability to collect unpaid taxes, a wealth tax on America’s billionaires, a global corporate minimum tax and a tax on what corporations report to shareholders.

Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.