WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 as Monday — 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 still 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 because of cost. “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.
Democrats were hoping Biden could cite major accomplishments when he attends a global conference in Scotland on climate change in early November after attending a summit of world leaders in Rome.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said the expected cuts to the clean energy provisions in the spending bill were especially disappointing because “it weakens Joe Biden’s hands in Glasgow.”
“If we’re going to get the rest of the world to take serious steps to remedy this problem, we’ve got to do it ourselves,” he said.
Pelosi insisted that Democrats had pieced together other policies in the spending bill that could reduce emissions. “We will have something that will meet the president’s goals,” she said.
The White House and congressional leaders have tried to push monthslong negotiations toward a conclusion by the end of October. Democrats’ aim is to produce an outline by then that would spell out the overall size of the measure and describe policy goals that leaders as well as progressives and moderates would endorse.
The wide-ranging measure carries many of Biden’s top domestic priorities. Party leaders want to end internal battles, avert the risk that the effort could fail and focus voters’ attention on the plan’s popular programs for helping families with child care, health costs and other issues.
Democrats also want to make progress that could help Democrat Terry McAuliffe win a neck-and-neck Nov. 2 gubernatorial election in Virginia.
The hope is that an agreement between the party’s two factions would create enough trust to let Democrats finally push through the House the separate $1 trillion package of highway and broadband projects.
That bipartisan measure was approved over the summer by the Senate. But it stalled after House progressives pulled their support due to disagreements on the bigger spending bill, causing Congress to miss an initial deadline. Pelosi later set an Oct. 31 target for passage of the infrastructure bill.
With Republicans fully opposed to Biden’s spending plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate for passage and can only spare a few votes in the House.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, maintained that his caucus will not budge on supporting the infrastructure bill before Oct. 31 if there is no agreement on the broader package, which would be passed under so-called budget reconciliation rules.
“The president needs the reconciliation agreement to go to Glasgow,” said Khanna, D-Calif. “That’s what is going to deal with climate change, that’s what’s going to hit his goals of 50% reduction by 2030. I’m confident we will have an agreement.”
Pelosi spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” King appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Khanna on “Fox News Sunday.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.