Biden unveils stripped back $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan and delays trip to convince the Squad

The White House says President Biden expects the scaled-down $1.75 trillion package to pass both the House and Senate, but it’s unclear whether progressives will get on board

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Thursday 28 October 2021 14:08 BST
Democrats cut paid family leave in major blow to Biden's social spending agenda

White House officials say the “framework” President Joe Biden will announce for his signature Build Back Better Act legislation will include new climate programmes, investments in childcare, health care and education, and extended tax credits for parents and low-wage workers — but not the paid family leave package that drew the ire of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Mr Biden, who was set to depart for the G20 and COP26 conferences in Rome and Glasgow this morning, delayed his flight to Italy to instead travel the short distance between the White House and Capitol Hill in hopes of smoothing over tensions between progressives — who’ve chafed at the influence moderate senators such as Mr Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema have exerted over the package — and the moderate and conservative House Democrats who have been up in arms over the chamber’s failure to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill which has already passed the Senate.

According to a senior White House official, the president used his trip to the Capitol — his second this month — to “make the case for this framework to House Democrats and call for its passage, as well as passage of the groundbreaking bipartisan infrastructure structure deal that will create millions of good paying union jobs, grow our economy, invest in communities that have too often been left behind, advanced equity, fight the climate crisis crisis and position the United States to compete globally ... in the 21st century”.

Mr Biden met with House Democrats in a basement meeting room for about an hour and departed the Capitol at 10.15am en route to the White House, where he was set deliver a televised address at 11.30am in which he will lay out the details of the $1.75 trillion package for the American people before he leaves for Europe.

What Mr Biden will discuss on Thursday is not in any way a final product, as the “framework” must be moulded into legislative language by House and Senate staffers. But the White House maintains that the president is “confident” that what he and his team have hammered out is “a framework that can pass both houses of Congress” and “looks forward to signing it into law”.

Although the plan Mr Biden will unveil will not include paid leave or other progressive priorities such as the prescription drug price reform plan that has been opposed by Ms Sinema, the administration maintains that the package is the result of input from all sides — progressive and moderate, House and Senate.

“We have spent countless hours over the last week working with a very wide array of legislators representing every segment of the party in Congress. They have all been negotiating in good faith with us. We’ve been negotiating in good faith with them. We’ve made enormous progress, and it [the framework] is a product of consultation with both chambers,” the official said. “The framework that we have reached … will represent historic progress on so many priorities that progressives have long fought for”.

While the $1.75 trillion package is significantly reduced in size from the more ambitious plans floated by progressives before it became clear that Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema would not support such a massive outlay of funds, what it does include will have at least some impact on the lives of countless Americans from cradle to grave.

For American children, the framework includes funding over six years for universal pre-kindergarten education that will serve more than six million children, as well as childcare tax credits that will cut costs for families earning up to 250% of their state’s median income, also funded for six years.

Families who’ve benefited from the expanded child tax credit included in the American Rescue Plan Act — signed into law earlier this year by Mr Biden — will get another year of monthly payments from the treasury.

For seniors and persons with disabilities, officials say the Biden framework will also strengthen existing Medicaid programmes to provide “affordable, high-quality home care” and improve working conditions for home care workers, as well as expand Medicare to cover the cost of hearing treatment. And Americans of all ages who purchase health insurance through Affordable Care Act exchanges would see the expanded tax credits they’ve received through the American Rescue Plan extended through 2025.

The White House is also touting what officials are calling “the single largest and most comprehensive investment in affordable housing history” — a $150bn investment towards building more than 1 million new affordable rental and single family homes, rental and purchase assistance, and public housing — as well as more than $500bn worth of provisions meant to fight climate change.

Mr Biden had hoped to have a climate plan in hand before departing for Europe so as to have something to present to world leaders at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Senior aides to Mr Biden say the climate provisions in the framework will more than fit the bill, promising they “will start cutting climate pollution right now, right away and deliver more than a gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions reductions” towards Mr Biden’s stated goal of cutting US greenhouse emissions in half by 2030.

“The framework represents the largest ever single investment in our clean energy economy across all sectors building transportation, industry, electricity, agriculture, and climate smart practices, on our lands and in our waters,” one senior White House official said.

While Mr Biden’s Clean Electricity Performance Plan — which drew Mr Manchin’s scorn for targeting fossil fuel burning power plants — did not make the cut, one progressive priority that did make it into the framework is the plan for a Civilian Climate Corps, which the official hoped “will spur hundreds of thousands of jobs” by “enlisting 300,000 members ... to conserve our public lands, bolster community resilience and address the changing climate”.

As for how all the programmes will be paid for, officials also say the framework includes the a 15 per cent corporate minimum tax on large corporations, the 15 per cent global minimum tax on corporations which the administration has been promoting, as well as a 1 per cent surcharge on stock buybacks, a surtax on multimillionaires and billionaires. Along with closing loopholes and investing in increased Internal Revenue Service enforcement, the administration says the revenue portions of the bill could bring in as much as $1.99 trillion into the treasury,.

As he arrived on Capitol Hill to meet with House members, Mr Biden told reporters that “everybody” is on board with the framework he would announce in remarks broadcast from the East Room several hours later.

But it’s unclear whether “everybody” includes the House or Senate progressives who’ve become increasingly aggressive in their demands over the course of negotiations this month.

As she entered the meeting with Mr Biden in the Capitol basement, House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal told reporters that her members “just have to see what’s in it at the end of the day” because the framework was “still very general”.

Ms Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, also told reporters that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders “has some concerns” about the plan, but stressed that she would reserve judgment until she can see actual legislative language.

“I want to see the text. I want to see what’s actually in it because it’s very difficult to make a decision on anything without seeing what’s in it, and I think that’s what we need to do now — see the text and ... hopefully we can get everyone on board assuming it’s a good bill,” she said.

Because Democrats are using a procedure called budget reconciliation — a parliamentary trick created by the 1974 Congressional Budget Act which lets certain spending bills pass the Senate without the possibility of a filibuster — their 50-vote (51 with Vice President Kamala Harris) majority in the Senate means that any single senator can scuttle the bill, and with a House majority margin in the single-digits, both the progressive and moderate blocs must agree on whatever reaches the floor.

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