WASHINGTON – Deadline driven, President Joe Biden brought two pivotal senators – Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer – to his Delaware home Sunday for talks aimed at resolving the disputes that have stymied the Democrats' wide-ranging social safety net and environmental measure.
The White House said the breakfast meeting with New York's Schumer, the majority leader, and West Virginia's Manchin at Biden's home in Wilmington was a “productive discussion” about the president's agenda. The talks appeared to last for hours, but no decisions were announced. The Democrats “continued to make progress,” the White House said in its post-meeting statement.
The sweeping package, at the core of Biden's domestic agenda, is now being scaled back to about $2 trillion to win over Manchin, perhaps the party's most conservative senator, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
The president is pressing for progress toward an agreed upon framework, so he can spotlight his administration's achievements to world leaders at two overseas summits on the economy and climate change that get underway this week.
Earlier Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reiterated that about 90% is wrapped up and said she expected an agreement by week's end, paving the way for a House vote on a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill before next Sunday, when a series of transportation programs will lapse.
“That's the plan,” she said.
Manchin and Sinema have insisted on reducing the size of the enormous package and have pressed for other changes. One key debate has been over the revenues to pay for the package, after Sinema rejected an earlier plan to reverse the Republican-led 2017 tax cuts on corporations and wealthy Americans earning more than $400,000.
Instead, the White House is eyeing a tax on billionaires as well as a 15% corporate minimum tax, to ensure all companies pay what Biden calls their “fair share” – ending the practice of some paying no taxes.
Pelosi said she was waiting for the Senate to wrap up talks and was expecting the tax plan to be introduced as early today – though that could slip.
“I think we're pretty much there,” said Pelosi, 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,” she said.
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 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. “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.