By LISA MASCARO, ALAN FRAM and MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Scaling back his ‘build back better’ plans, President Joe Biden on Tuesday described a more limited vision to Democratic lawmakers of a $ 2 trillion government overhaul program with at least $ 500 billion to fight against climate change and money for the environment. class priorities – child tax credits, paid family leave, health care and free preschool.
And he expects negotiations to end as early as this week.
The president met privately until the evening with nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers in separate groups as Democrats appeared ready to drop what had been a larger package of $ 3.5 trillion for a smaller proposal and more achievable that can unite the party and gain passage in the very divided Congress.
Likely to be eliminated or seriously curtailed: plans for tuition-free community colleges, a path to legal status for immigrants who find themselves in the United States without papers, and a specific clean energy plan that was the piece master of Biden’s strategy to tackle climate change.
Details were shared by those familiar with the conversation and granted anonymity to discuss the private meetings.
Biden felt “more confident” after the day of the meetings, press secretary Jen Psaki said. “There was broad agreement that there is an urgent need to move forward over the next few days and that the window to finalize a package is closing,” she said. .
After months of turmoil, Democrats are increasingly worried about having little to show voters despite their campaign promises. Biden’s ideas must all be funded by tax hikes on the wealthiest businesses and individuals, those who earn more than $ 400,000 a year.
The president is particularly keen to advance his national signing program to strengthen federal social services and tackle climate change ahead of his departure for a world climate summit next week.
Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., A member of the Progressive Caucus, said Biden had urged lawmakers to “do something now” to show US leadership on climate change on the world stage.
âHe really believes in American leadership, American prestige is at stake,â Khanna said.
A key part of Biden’s proposals, Conservative West Virginia Coal State Senator Joe Manchin, has made it clear that he opposes the president’s original clean energy performance plan, which would oblige the government to impose penalties on electric utilities that fail to meet clean energy standards and offer financial rewards to those that do, in line with Biden’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” d ‘by 2030.
Instead, Biden focused in his Tuesday meetings on providing at least $ 500 billion in tax credits, grants and loans to fight climate change, much of it coming from probably from a package compiled by Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the finance committee. These include tax breaks for energy producers who meet emission reduction targets.
This clean energy approach may better align with Manchin’s stated goal of maintaining a âfuel neutralâ approach to federal policy that does not favor renewable energy sources over coal and natural gas. who are dominant in his state.
Other climate change proposals being considered are a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal or a levy on methane emissions – although Manchin told reporters earlier back in the day that a carbon tax was not in the mix.
Failure to act on climate change would have far-reaching consequences in the United States and abroad. Inaction, supporters of the Big Effort say, could cost the United States billions of dollars in weather disasters and threaten to uproot millions of Americans in hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods.
Representative Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Another member of the progressive caucus, called Manchin’s opposition on climate issues “one of the biggest challenges” threatening to stop a final bill.
On other fronts, Biden and the Democrats seemed more easily to unite around a lean package.
Biden wants to extend the $ 300 monthly child tax credit that was put in place during the COVID-19 crisis by one year, rather than letting it expire in December.
The policy has been hailed for sending money to families most in need. Democrats want to extend the credit for additional years, but limiting the length would help keep costs down. It must now be removed for single-parent households earning more than $ 75,000 a year, or $ 150,000 for couples, but those income thresholds could be lowered to meet the demands of Manchins and more conservative Democrats.
What had been envisioned as a federal paid family leave program lasting several months could be reduced to just four weeks.
Biden also wants to secure funding for health care programs, including new funds for home and community health care services, supporting the move away from widespread nursing home care.
And a new program to provide dental, vision and hearing benefits to elderly people on Medicare proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, should somehow stay, said Khanna, a Sanders’ longtime ally.
New grants are still expected to be included in the package to help families pay for child care as well as increased grants put in place during the pandemic for people buying their own health insurance.
Biden told lawmakers that after his top priorities there would be $ 300 billion left, which some say could be used for issues of housing assistance and racial justice. Biden also mentioned that the money could be used to renovate the homes of low-income people.
But Biden’s vision for a free community college for all is falling apart.
“This is not the robust vision that the president wants or that we want,” Khanna said.
At a long and “lively” lunch of Democratic senators earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was “universal agreement in this room that we must come to an agreement and that we have to do it “.
Schumer said he, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talk to each other on a daily basis.
Biden met in the White House for nearly two hours with the first group of lawmakers, progressives, who appeared convinced that a deal was within reach. The moderate lawmakers met for about 90 minutes in the evening.
“Everyone is talking,” said Manchin, who had his own meeting Tuesday with the president.
For months, Manchin and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have objected to the scope and scale of Biden’s agenda, testing the patience of colleagues who see a unique opportunity to reshape government programs. Sinema missed the Senators’ lunch, but had a separate meeting with Biden.
With Republicans totally opposed to Biden’s plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate to pass and can only spare a few votes in the House.
As the weather is slipping, Congress has set a deadline of Oct. 31 for the passage.
Associated Press editors Kevin Freking, Darlene Superville, Alexandra Jaffe, and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.
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