Forced to pare down their bill to expand the social safety net, Democrats are now having to make tough calls on what they can cut from the proposal, prompting fresh concerns from members who had been working for years on provisions that once had been included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and now may be on the chopping block.
Democratic leaders face the challenge of shrinking a once $3.5 trillion bill closer to the President’s recently discussed $1.75 to $1.9 trillion price tag — and find a way to pay for it — at a time when each member of their party holds considerable influence as leadership will need almost every vote to move Biden’s agenda over the finish line.
With nothing yet fully decided, some Democrats are trying to boost provisions that may be reduced or knocked out of the final bill entirely — and, at times, are letting their displeasure spill into public view — as members of the party receive more information about what cuts could be coming.
During a meeting with House progressives on Tuesday, Biden told them the final bill is not expected to include tuition-free community college, a major White House priority, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
“I am a product of community colleges. I want to make sure that stays in. So we are kind of making our last-minute pitches on different components, but it’s going to be touch and go,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California told CNN. “It’s a lot of trial balloons to see like what the reactions of different factions are.”
Moreover, Biden on Tuesday indicated that the child tax credit — another Democratic priority — would likely be extended for one additional year, much shorter than what many in the party had wanted, one of the sources said. The child tax credit will also only go to those at certain income thresholds, a key concession to some of the Senate’s moderates who had called for means testing.
Staff and members were shocked Tuesday to learn that the White House had floated an expanded Child Tax Credit extension for just one year. That was far less than what both the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee had prepared for and members who had worked for years crafting the proposal had hoped for.
Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who first began advocating for similar legislation in 2003, called the decision to pare down the child tax credit “a very big mistake and a missed opportunity for the country.”
“I will continue to press for a more enduring framework for children and families,” she told CNN.
And Rep. Ritchie Torres, DeLauro’s progressive caucus colleague, didn’t mince words when approached by CNN after votes on Wednesday. “I am convinced that if the child tax credit only has a one-year extension, then what happens when the Republicans assume control of the House? Then the child tax credit will be left to expire, and millions of children will be plunged into poverty. And our greatest achievement will be undone. So it strikes me as a grave miscalculation,” the New York Democrat said.
But the child tax credit was just one of the items Democrats had grown worried about since Tuesday’s meetings.
In another meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Biden laid out to moderates the challenge of including an increase in the State and Local tax deduction cap. The provision largely affects individuals who hail from high tax states like California, New Jersey and New York and has been a key issue for members who hail from competitive districts in those areas with some adopting the stance, “No SALT, no deal.”
On Wednesday, a handful of members worked the phones with White House officials trying to unlock a way forward on the provision, but it still wasn’t clear how it would be paid for.
As they’ve lowered the price tag of their legislation, Democrats have grappled with two options for moving forward: Reducing the number of programs included in the bill but fully funding the programs that remained, or, two, preserve more programs even if they have to be cut short of funded less. The latter now appears to be House progressives’ preference.
Democratic aides say it’s a result of every member needing to feel like they are getting something in the package in order to support it across the finish line. In the Senate, all 50 Democrats have to vote “yes.” In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can only lose three Democrats and still pass the bill.
The question of funding grew more complicated Wednesday as Democratic leaders scrambled to find a way to pay for the bill without some of the key tax increases that they had planned to use.
Behind the scenes, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate from Arizona, had made it clear to the White House she wouldn’t back increases to the corporate and individual tax rate, leaving far fewer options for how to finance the legislation. It’s a sign that even as Democrats complete and try to close out their negotiations, there are still massive issues to work through.
Pelosi, in Wednesday’s Democratic caucus meeting, compared the legislative pain of the moment to that of childbirth.
“Once we have the beautiful baby, we’ll forget all the pain of getting there,” she said according to a member in the room.
When asked if his caucus would support a top line of $1.75 to $1.9 trillion for the economic package, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects members will eventually support the price tag that’s decided on.
“I think members are in a position where they want to get something done, they understand that you’ve got to get everybody in the tent, because we have very close margins so I think they’ll, they’ll accommodate for that,” the Maryland Democrat said.
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