WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hosted budget talks Sunday with two pivotal senators in hopes of resolving lingering disputes over Democrats’ long-stalled effort to craft an expansive social and environment measure.
The White House said the session with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was held at the president’s home in Delaware, where he was spending the weekend.
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Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., two of their party’s most moderate members, have insisted on reducing the size of the package and have pressed for other changes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was waiting for the Senate to wrap up talks on the framework and was expecting a plan to be introduced as early as Monday. Top Democrats are scrambling to act on legislation by week’s end so they can pass a separate, roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill by Oct. 31, when a series of transportation programs will lapse.
“I think we’re pretty much there,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., stressing that a few “last decisions” need to be made. “It is less than what was projected to begin with, but it’s still bigger than anything we have ever done in terms of addressing the needs of America’s working families.”
Democrats initially planned that the measure would contain $3.5 trillion worth of spending and tax initiatives over 10 years. But demands by moderates led by Manchin and Sinema to contain costs mean its final price tag could well be less than $2 trillion.
Disputes remain over whether some priorities must be cut or excluded. These include plans to expand Medicare coverage, child care assistance, and helping lower-income college students. Manchin, whose state has a major coal industry, has opposed proposals to penalize utilities that do not switch quickly to clean energy.
Pelosi said Democrats were still working to keep in provisions for four weeks of paid family leave but acknowledged that other proposals such as expanding Medicare to include dental coverage could prove harder to save because of cost. “Dental will take a little longer to implement,” she said.
Also expected to be trimmed is a clean energy proposal that was the centerpiece of Biden’s strategy for fighting climate change. Biden has set a goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030. But Manchin has made clear he opposes the initial clean energy proposal, which was to have the government impose penalties on electric utilities that fail to meet clean energy benchmarks and provide financial rewards to those that do.
Democrats were hoping Biden could cite major accomplishments when he attends a global summit in Scotland on climate change in early November. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said the expected cuts to the clean energy provisions in the spending bill were especially disappointing because “it weakens Joe Biden’s hands in Glasgow.”
“If we’re going to get the rest of the world to take serious steps to remedy this problem, we’ve got to do it ourselves,” he said.
Pelosi insisted that Democrats had pieced together other policies in the spending bill that could reduce emissions. “We will have something that will meet the president’s goals,” she said.
The White House and congressional leaders have tried to push months-long negotiations toward a conclusion by the end of October. Democrats’ aim is to produce an outline by then that would spell out the overall size of the measure and describe policy goals that leaders, as well as progressives and moderates, would endorse.
The wide-ranging measure carries many of Biden’s top domestic priorities. Party leaders want to end internal battles, avert the risk that the effort could fail, and focus voters’ attention on the plan’s popular programs for helping families with child care, health costs, and other issues.
Politically, Democrats also want to make progress that could help Democrat Terry McAuliffe win a neck-and-neck Nov. 2 gubernatorial election in Virginia.
The hope is that an agreement between the party’s two factions would create enough trust to let Democrats finally push through the House the separate $1 trillion package of highway and broadband projects.
That bipartisan measure was approved over the summer by the Senate. But progressives have held it up in the House as leverage to prompt moderates to back the bigger, broader package of health care, education and environment initiatives.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, maintained that his caucus will not budge on supporting the infrastructure bill by the Oct. 31 deadline if there is no agreement on the broader spending package, which would be passed under so-called budget reconciliation rules.
“The president needs the reconciliation agreement to go to Glasgow,” said Khanna, D-Calif. “That’s what is going to deal with climate change, that’s what’s going to hit his goals of 50% reduction by 2030. I’m confident we will have an agreement.”
Pelosi spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” King appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Khanna on “Fox News Sunday.”