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Monday, March 20, 2023

Fights Still Rage on Over Biden’s Big Bill

Democrats in the House look to be on the point of passing President Joe Biden’s $1.85 trillion-plus domestic policy package, together with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, in what would be a major electoral victory if they can get it through.

Late Thursday, the House postponed votes but will resume them early Friday, while White House officials worked the phones to secure support for the president’s main idea. After months of negotiations, House passage of the big bill would be a critical step in sending Biden’s ambitious effort to expand health care, child care, and other social services for tens of millions of Americans to the Senate, as well as deliver the country’s largest investment yet in combating climate change.

It adds up to Biden’s response to his campaign vow to rebuild the country after the COVID-19 disaster and face a changing economy, when combined with the leaner roads-bridges-and-broadband plan.

But they haven’t arrived yet.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked until the wee hours of the night at the Capitol on Thursday to shore up votes. The Democrats have been here before, on another politically tumultuous day like so many others that are being blamed for the party’s poor showing in this week’s elections. Party leaders on and off Capitol Hill have announced that it is time for Congress to carry out Biden’s program.

At a lunchtime press conference, Pelosi asserted, “We’re going to pass both legislation.”

Her current tactic appears to be to approve the most comprehensive law possible in her chamber, then leave the Senate to amend or remove the parts that its members would not agree to. In a brief meeting late Thursday, the House Rules Committee processed final amendments, including a state-and-local tax deduction, in preparation for floor votes.

The now huge 2,135-page bill, which is half the size of Biden’s first $3.5 trillion program, has won over most progressive Democratic members, despite being smaller than they hoped. The more moderate and fiscally conservative Democrats in the House, on the other hand, continued to raise objections.

Overall, the package is still the most comprehensive in decades. Republicans are dead set against Biden’s initiative, dubbed the “Build Back Better Act” after the president’s 2020 campaign slogan.

The package would help a vast number of Americans pay for health care, raise children, and care for their aging relatives at home.

Lower prescription medication costs would be achieved, with the price of insulin being limited to $35 per dosage, and Medicare would be authorized to negotiate drug pricing for the first time with pharmaceutical corporations, a long-sought Democratic aim.

For older Americans, Medicare would include a new hearing aid benefit, and those with Medicare Part D would have their out-of-pocket prescription medication expenditures capped at $2,000 per year.

The law would offer $555 billion in tax credits to encourage the use of renewable energy and electric cars, making it the country’s greatest commitment to combating climate change.

The Democrats added significant elements in recent days with a flurry of late modifications, including a new paid family leave program and work permits for immigrants. Late Thursday modifications would increase the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions to $80,000.

A large portion of the package’s cost would be funded by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, those earning more than $400,000 per year, and a 5% surtax on those earning more than $10 million per year. In order to prevent huge enterprises from claiming so many deductions that they end up paying no taxes, a new 15% minimum tax would be imposed on them.

“The president has been very clear, he wants to get things going,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House’s chief deputy press secretary.

As night neared, Democratic leaders battled to overcome a slew of unresolved concerns, as members tried to strike a balance between Biden’s broad vision and the realities of their home districts.

Biden has few votes to spare in the House, and none when the bill finally comes up for debate in the Senate, which is evenly split 50-50.

Before voting, five Democratic members from the center demand a complete budget analysis. Others from more Republican-leaning areas are opposed to a new state-and-local tax deduction that benefits high-tax states like New York and California. Another organization is pushing for reforms to the immigration laws.

Both the overall cost and the revenue required to pay for it have increased in recent days. According to a summary acquired by The Associated Press on Thursday, money from taxes on businesses and the rich, as well as other reforms, is expected to bring in $2.1 trillion over ten years. This is an increase from prior estimates of $1.9 trillion.

Pelosi cited a similar assessment from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation on Thursday, and she backed Biden’s frequent assertion that the entire package will be adequately funded.

However, a model from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School projected a revenue deficit to fund the costs, raising further misgivings among Democratic senators.

Still, House Democrats are keen to wrap things up this week, eager to deliver on the president’s agenda and, as some members prepare to travel to Scotland for a global climate change meeting, demonstrate that the US is serious about the issue.

Democrats have been trying to iron out their disagreements, notably with holdout senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who imposed cuts to Biden’s bill but championed a narrower infrastructure package that had stagnated during the debate.

Manchin has slammed the new family and medical leave program, which would only allow four weeks of paid time off after a delivery, for recovery from a significant illness, or for caring for family members, instead of the 12-weeks originally planned.

Senators are also expected to remove a recently introduced immigration measure that would create a new program for the country’s estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants, enabling them to apply for five-year work and travel permits in the United States. Under the special budget procedures being used to approve the package, it’s unclear if the addition would pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian.

Another topic that Democrats are still debating is a plan to repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, which disproportionately affects high-tax states and was implemented as part of Trump’s 2017 tax plan.

While numerous Northeastern state legislators want to eliminate the so-called SALT deduction cap, progressives wanted to ensure that the super-rich would not profit. Starting in the 2021 tax year, the $10,000 deduction threshold would be raised to $80,000 under the new plan.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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