Biden visits Capitol to sell dramatically shrunken $1.75 trillion policy package

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President Joe Biden traveled to Capitol Hill early Thursday to make the case to House Democrats for a dramatically scaled-back domestic policy package, $1.75 trillion of social services and climate change programs the White House believes can pass the 50-50 Senate.

Biden is eager to have a deal in hand before he departs later in the day for the G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. But the revised new package is losing some of Democrats' top priorities as the president's campaign ambitions make way for the political realities of the narrowly divided Congress.

The US president urged House Democrats to pass the bill by arguing that it was essential for both the fight against climate change and the US’s geostrategic rivalry with China.

"It is a framework that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity and put us on a path not only to compete, but to win the economic competition for the 21st century," Biden said in an address to the nation after talks with senior congressional Democrats.

"This framework also makes the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever – beyond any other advanced nation in the world," Biden continued.

It could be harder to persuade other countries to commit to his goals – especially on climate change – if the US refuses to fully embrace them. Analysts say this is one of the risks of Biden’s choice to knit together his domestic and foreign policies.

Billions to tackle climate change

A paid family leave and efforts to lower prescription drug pricing are now gone entirely from the package, according to senior administration officials who requested anonymity to brief reporters about the emerging details.

Still in the mix: Free prekindergarten for all youngsters, expanded health care programs – including the launch of a $35 billion new hearing aid benefit for seniors on Medicare – and $555 billion to tackle climate change.

There's also a one-year extension of a child care tax credit that was put in place during the Covid-19 rescue, new child care subsidies and $100 billion to bolster the legal immigration and border processing system.

Asked as he arrived on Capitol Hill if he has enough support from his party for passage, Biden told reporters: "Yes."

Taking shape after months of prolonged negotiations, the White House cast the overall package as the largest-ever investment in climate change and the biggest improvement to the nation’s healthcare system in more than a decade.

Biden’s proposal would be paid for by imposing a new 5% surtax on income over $10 million a year and instituting a new 15% corporate minimum tax, keeping with his plans to have no new taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year, officials said.

Revenue to help pay for the package would also come from rolling back some of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts, along with stepped-up enforcement of tax-dodgers by the IRS. Biden has vowed to cover the entire cost of the plan, ensuring it does not pile onto the debt load.

Manchin, Sinema swing votes

Biden will make remarks from the White House about the package, and a related $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, before departing later Thursday on global summits.

But the framework is not yet the full legislative text, which lawmakers and aides cautioned has not yet been agreed to by the lawmakers. Advocates urging Democrats to support climate change efforts protested outside the Capitol.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the progressive caucus leader, said unveiling the new framework “will show tremendous momentum. But we want to see the actual text because we don’t want any confusion and misunderstandings.”

Democrats' disputes over the big domestic policy bill has held up passage of a separate $1 trillion package of road, broadband and other infrastructure projects that faces a Sunday deadline for a vote. But Biden will make the push to send both over the “finish line.”

In the divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare. The House is similarly split with just a few vote margin.

Despite a series of deadlines, Democrats have been unable to close the deal among themselves, and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the package. At best, Democrats could potentially reach a framework that could send Biden overseas with a deal in hand and unlock the process while the final details were sewn up.

Applying pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a Thursday committee hearing to spur the Biden package along toward a full House vote, though timing remained uncertain.

Two key Democratic holdouts, Sens Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have almost single-handedly reduced the size and scope of their party's big vision.

White House officials have been meeting repeatedly with Manchin and Sinema, two senators who now hold enormous power, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.

A Sunday deadline loomed for approving the smaller public works bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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