Congressional Democrats are maneuvering to reinsert paid family leave and other far-left priorities into President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social welfare bill, brushing aside moderates’ concerns about the price tag and the risk of provoking the same disagreements that have held up a final deal for months.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, Massachusetts Democrat, pledged to add a federal guarantee of at least four weeks of paid leave in any version of the bill advanced by the House.
“For far too long, American workers have had to make the impossible choice between providing for their families and caring for them,” Mr. Neal said. “The Ways and Means Committee crafted a policy that will finally give workers and their families the peace of mind of knowing that when disaster strikes, they can rely on paid leave to avoid [a] total crisis.”
Mr. Biden initially proposed a 12-week paid leave guarantee, but that provision was scrapped after opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and a key swing vote. Mr. Manchin said any paid leave proposal should have widespread support and be adequately funded.
“I support it. … I just don’t support [unfunded] leave,” Mr. Manchin said. “That means getting more debt and basically putting more social programs that we can’t pay for, that we’re having problems [with] now. I want to support paid leave. I want to do it in a bipartisan way.”
Negotiations on the bill have become mired in recent days during Mr. Biden’s travel overseas. The House and Senate are working through revisions separately with little coordination.
The effect is that both chambers are tailoring the legislation to the needs of their members but risk crafting a deal that will be unacceptable to the other.
Mr. Manchin’s opposition was enough to kill the proposal once because Democrats plan to push the spending package along party lines using budget reconciliation. The process allows spending measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster and pass by a simple majority.
Regardless, House Democrats did not consult the senator before reinserting paid leave into the package. Mr. Neal said the latest proposal is sufficiently different and will receive the support of holdouts, especially Mr. Manchin.
“We do this responsibly, fully paying for the means-tested program,” Mr. Neal said. “This is a matter of financial security, worker productivity and, most of all, humanity.”
House Democrats are operating in their own silo when it comes to tax cuts for wealthy blue-state residents.
Vulnerable moderate Democrats, specifically from the Northeast and West, are pushing for a full restoration of the state and local tax deduction. The lucrative credit, which was capped to $10,000 by Trump-era tax reforms, allows individuals to write off certain state and local taxes on their federal returns.
The deduction is primarily used by residents in coastal states that vote predominantly Democratic and have high state and local tax burdens.
Moderate Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, initially wanted to repeal the cap permanently. After significant pushback, the lawmakers hope to raise the cap from $10,000 to $72,500. The hike would be immediate and last throughout the next decade.
House Democrats are backing the change. Their counterparts in the Senate are working on a separate proposal for state and local tax deductions.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said his version will permanently erase the cap for families making less than $400,000 per year. That version, authored by Mr. Sanders and Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, would keep the cap in place for wealthy individuals.
“It would be absurd and hypocritical to provide the richest people in this country with massive tax breaks,” said Mr. Sanders. “Completely eliminating the cap on state and local tax exemption is regressive and unfair.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is championing a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate prices of prescription drugs.
Under the agreement, Medicare could negotiate the prices of 10 lifesaving drugs starting in 2023. The list of drugs eligible for negotiation would increase over time.
Seniors would get rebates if the prices of certain drugs, such as insulin, rise higher than the rate of inflation. The proposal further caps out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to $2,000 per year.
“For years, skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs have plagued millions of seniors and American families to the point that Americans spend far more on prescription drugs per capita than other wealthy nations,” Mr. Schumer said.
The proposal was written in hopes of garnering the support of another key moderate Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Although Ms. Sinema has offered tentative support for the deal, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Manchin or a cadre of moderate House Democrats will jump on board.
The measure faces long odds in the House, given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, can lose the support of only three members of her majority. In the past, nearly a dozen House Democrats have expressed skepticism of prescription drug pricing schemes.
There are also concerns that all of the programs proposed will significantly raise the price tag of the overall bill.
Mr. Biden initially proposed a more than $3.5 trillion package that included long-sought liberal priorities such as free community college tuition. After moderates expressed concern, the White House whittled down the bill to $1.75 trillion. Neither Mr. Manchin nor Ms. Sinema has accepted that figure.
Now, with Democrats planning to add paid family leave, full restoration of the state and local tax deduction, and the prescription drug pricing, the overall cost has likely soared well above $1.75 trillion.
“Here’s what we know: President Biden’s [bill] is thousands of pages long, costs trillions and is designed to expand the government’s role in American society,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, Tennessee Republican. “What we don’t know are the economic, tax and fiscal impacts of this massive legislation.”
As such, Republicans and some moderate Democrats are demanding that the Congressional Budget Office conduct a speedy and transparent audit of the bill.
Far-left Democrats say waiting for a proper CBO score, which could take weeks, will kill momentum for a deal.
“Different pieces of the legislation have already been scored,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington state Democrat. “And so if you put all those together, you have a pretty good sense.”
• Haris Alic can be reached at email@example.com.
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