President Joe Biden’s economic agenda risks getting delayed by weeks or months in Congress with tax, health care and other issues still unresolved and continued squabbling between the Democratic Party’s progressive and moderate wings.
House committees on Wednesday wrapped up work on significant portions of the package, including $2.1 trillion in tax increases to help pay for the biggest expansion of social welfare programs in decades. That technically meets the Democrats’ self-imposed deadline, but the action belies the obstacles still ahead that threaten to diminish Biden’s ambitious proposals and put off votes on them in the House and Senate.
“Some folks have issues on climate change, some people have issues on tax and some people have issues on health care,” said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, adding that he thinks Democrats ultimately will agree on a package.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said that the Senate would likely take whatever passes the House, change it and send it back to the House. He said he doesn’t see that happening this month.
“It’s going to take some time,” Cardin said, adding that “as you put out one area, another one crops up.”
The expansive $3.5 trillion package entails much of Biden’s first-year agenda and includes a mix of tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, as well as greater spending in areas including child care, health care and climate change.
With Republicans unified in opposition, Democrats are pushing it through the Senate using a process called reconciliation that lets them skirt a GOP filibuster. But with the slimmest of majorities in both chambers, Democrats will have to be unified in support.
The differences among Democrats manifested themselves as the House panels finished their work. The Ways and Means Committee deferred action on raising the limit on the state and local tax deductions, or SALT, and a sweeping proposal to regulate drug prices failed to win approval in the Energy and Commerce Committee. It will be up to party leaders to decide whether those provisions can be inserted later in the process and still muster the votes needed to pass the final bill.
The biggest issue remains the size of the $3.5 trillion package. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes are pivotal to passage, are balking at the cost. Manchin also has called for a “strategic pause” in action amid soaring debt and rising inflation. But progressive Democrats in the House, whose votes also are necessary for passage, view the $3.5 trillion as the minimum necessary for their priorities.
Biden waded in Wednesday, meeting separately with Sinema and Manchin at the White House. Neither the senators nor the White House provided much detail about the talks. Sinema’s office released a statement calling the discussion “productive.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there would be “ongoing discussions.”