Home Agenda Five big questions as Democrats seek to revive Biden’s stalled agenda

Five big questions as Democrats seek to revive Biden’s stalled agenda


WASHINGTON — Democrats are seeking to rekindle major elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda when Congress returns this week, with high stakes for the president’s legacy, the 2022 midterms, and millions of people at stake. looking for economic relief.

Ahead of the Senate adjournment, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said talks on a follow-up to the failed Build Back Better Act were continuing and could ‘accelerate’ after the break two weeks.

“We want to get it. Look, there’s a lot of talk going on right now. They’re not very detailed,” Schumer told reporters. “We would like to put forward a reconciliation bill and go as far as we can, do whatever we can, with 50 votes.”

Thanks to razor-thin margins, the failure of the previous bill, and the political vulnerability of some Democrats as they prepare for the fall election, the new effort faces a host of hurdles. The Senate is likely to act first after centrist Joe Manchin, DW.Va., stunned the White House by kill the bill passed by the House in December.

Here is an overview of the main questions facing the new push:

What are they negotiating?

Manchin called for a three-pronged bill: tax reform, prescription drug costs and energy. Higher taxes on corporations and high earners would produce more revenue, new rules clamping down on prescription drug prices would save the government money, and the dollars of both would be split between deficit reduction and payment. an “all of the above” energy plan that supports climate-focused and fossil fuel technologies.

All come with question marks, and the further Manchin strays from the House bill passed last year, the more convoluted they could become.

Taxes are more complicated and they could run into thorny issues with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. There are also many possible versions of prescription drug reform; the one in the House bill was carefully crafted to appease him and other holdouts, some from states and districts with strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

On energy, Manchin said he was starting from scratch, but Democrats still assume the rough starting point will be the Build Back Better initiative’s $555 billion climate plan, which included funding for tax to encourage faster adoption of renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles and other green technologies.

If Democrats reach agreement on the above — a big “if” — the next question is whether Manchin is willing to consider additional social spending. Raising revenue similar to the House’s Build Back Better Act could leave enough funds to fund one or more programs while devoting an equal amount to deficit reduction.

How much does Manchin want a deal?

For Schumer’s allies, it all comes down to whether Manchin wants to get a “yes” after pulling out of negotiations entirely in December and withdrawing any previous offers he might have made.

“Ultimately, it was not one particular provision or group of provisions that sank the bill. It’s that not all 50 Democratic senators were interested in getting a yes,” said Matt House, Schumer’s former communications director. “For it to succeed this time, that will have to change.”

Even Democrats willing to deal with Manchin on his own terms have publicly wanted him to simply draft his favorite bill rather than vaguely refer to a possible framework for a deal.

Manchin’s defenders argue that he has been consistent from the start and that his concerns about long-term funding for new programs have not been taken seriously enough by executives.

This time around, Manchin is widely seen as dictating the terms of any bill from the start, and everyone from the White House to leading progressives seems eager to say yes to whatever he throws at them. Manchin’s decision to leave the table in December made it clear he was fine without an invoice. The Liberals want it more than him.

Will Sinema cause problems?

Perhaps the biggest concern for bill-hungry Democrats is that Manchin and Sinema don’t have compatible requirements, primarily on income.

For Manchin, the priority is to reform the tax code to raise money and reduce the deficit. In particular, he wants to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 25%, raise the top capital gains tax rate from 23.8% to 28%, and close a so-called carried interest loophole. which favors hedge funds and other investors.

These are all typical Democratic positions. But Sinema is not a typical Democrat: She opposed rate increases during negotiations, a position an aide to Sinema said she now defends. Because of his demands, the House passed a bill that still managed to raise about $2 trillion, but by other means, such as a new minimum corporate tax and a surtax on incomes above $10 million.

“They’re going to have to figure out if all of that revenue can stay, if some can stay, or if it has to go back to the drawing board,” said Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Institute for Progressive Policy.

If Manchin and Sinema can’t agree on $2 trillion in taxes and savings, there could be enough overlapping ideas for a $1 trillion bill that could fund a climate plan and deficit reduction. But if Sinema sticks to his red lines and Manchin decides his specific tax ideas are a must, the effort could crumble very quickly.

Let’s say Sinema and Manchin get away with it. Will enough Democrats get on board?

A senior House Democratic official said Schumer needed to recognize he couldn’t please everyone, advising him to figure out who can win the 50 caucus votes and own it. The aide pointed to a remark by former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid to Time magazine in an article in January when asked about Schumer: “If you want to be a good leader, you have to be able to say no.

Democrats on the moderate side of the party agree that Schumer’s role will be critical.

“Because of the differing opinions within our caucus, this needs to be a process led by the White House and the Senate Majority Leader to determine where the perfect Venn Diagram overlap is and maximize what our party can do. “said John LaBombard, a former spokesman for Sinema. “I believe that if there is a will, there is a way to achieve a package that can win the support of Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin and all the others that would effectively address inflation, rising costs and the Cost of life.”

On the party’s left flank, progressives have mostly signaled they are open to a smaller deal, even if it involves painful sacrifices, such as dropping expensive proposals or even a short-term increase in fossil fuels. . But the real test would only come if a deal was announced, and a last-minute revolt by a single senator or five House members would kill a bill.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., said it “makes sense” to consider a bill with taxes, drug savings and climate funding.

“I think the biggest and most important thing that we have to consider is the real financial boosts that we are going to be able to provide to workers. Because people really feel the loss of the child tax credit,” she said.

Other resisters have been House moderates demanding a full restoration of the state and local tax deduction, which largely benefits wealthy taxpayers and may have to go. But they would come under huge party pressure to back a deal with 50 votes in the Senate.

Will the election year calendar ruin it?

Hurry up. There are only 12 legislative weeks on the Senate calendar before the August-long recess, which is widely seen as the tipping point given the proximity of the election. And Biden’s immediate priorities in Congress are a new aid package for Ukraine and funding for Covid-19, a White House official said.

However, to wrap up the larger bill by August, a soft framework agreement may be needed much sooner — perhaps as early as late May — to give lawmakers time to fill in the details, plan time speak and vote on the amendments.

Politically vulnerable Democrats prepare for re-election by testing their messages on the ground. Passing a major bill late in the cycle could make some lawmakers risk averse.

But other party members insist a reconciliation bill would be a net benefit, and many frontline members have expressed a keen interest in passing grassroots initiatives such as prescription drug reform for back up their mid-term message. There were few signs of celebration from members in competitive seats when Manchin stepped down last year.

Sean McElwee, executive director of liberal society Data for Progress, said the political consequences of another failure would be disastrous. “Not passing this bill would further erode our already weak grassroots enthusiasm and put Democrats at risk,” he said.