Pelosi Steers Party Toward Biden Agenda With ‘Fewer Things’
(Bloomberg) -- Fractious Democrats are grappling with how to fit their priorities into a shrunken tax and spending bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that President Joe Biden’s signature plan will be scaled back by focusing on fewer, well-executed programs.
“We have some important decisions to make in the next few days so that we can proceed,” Pelosi said Tuesday at a news conference. “If there are fewer dollars to be spent, there are choices to be made.”
Democrats must slim down a bill worth at least $3.5 trillion that was crafted by House committees last month to roughly $2 trillion -- a figure Biden has floated as a potential compromise between progressives pushing for more and West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate who says he supports a number closer to $1.5 trillion.
Pelosi said she is “very disappointed” the level of spending will be less than $3.5 trillion.
“We’re still talking about a couple of trillion dollars, but it’s much less,” she said.
In a letter to fellow House Democrats late Monday night, Pelosi said the emerging consensus “is to do fewer things well, so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden endorses the speaker’s approach. “The president agrees,” Psaki said at a press briefing.
Pelosi, at her news conference, declined to say what proposals might be dropped but said that the first stab at shrinking the package would be shortening the length of time some proposals would be in effect.
“We have to have something that will pass the House and pass the Senate,” she said.
Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal made clear liberals would prefer to “reduce the number of years because the universality of benefits and the immediacy of benefits is absolutely critical.”
“Something we’re willing to look at is cutting back the years, say for example, on free community college,” the Washington Democrat added.
Moderates have been seeking to narrow the universe of policy programs in the tax and spending bill to protect the priorities that do survive the cut.
“We cannot leave President Biden’s legacy to chance with budgetary gimmicks and short-term cliffs,” Washington Democratic Representative Suzan Delbene, the chair of the New Democrat Coalition, said in a statement. “I have little confidence that a future Republican-controlled House or Senate would extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit or other Democratic priorities without significant erosion.”
Focusing on a more limited set of programs could mean that some of the more ambitious elements get cut. Progressives, however, argue that they ran for office on free community college tuition, subsidized childcare and a whole range of climate protection programs, and that they must keep their promises.
Programs that take more effort or time to implement, such as expanding dental and vision benefits to Medicare patients, could get cut to make room for those that can be put into practice easily, including making some Affordable Care Act benefits permanent and continuing monthly child tax credit payments, both of which already have systems in place.
But again, such an approach faces opposition from progressives.
Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, said expanding Medicare to add dental, vision and hearing benefits is “not negotiable” and must be part of the final bill. Jayapal said House progressives have the same stance.
A smaller bill would be easier to fund in full with revenue-raising measures, and wouldn’t require Democrats to enact every tax proposal on the wealthy and corporations that Biden has floated. However, it also would mean significantly fewer benefits and tax credits could make it into the bill. Some politically popular benefits, including tax credits for electric vehicles or an expansion of the federal deduction for state and local taxes, could fall away -- because they would help wealthier taxpayers.
“I’m optimistic that we will get to where we need to be in a timely fashion,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi has already reset the focus for the end of the month, giving House Democrats an Oct. 31 target to approve the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill containing $550 billion in new spending; the date coincides with the expiration of what is now already a funding extension for federal highway programs.
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