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With backstop bill stalled, Democrats weigh priorities

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With backstop bill stalled, Democrats weigh priorities

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WASHINGTON — President Biden’s concession this week that his social safety net and climate package must be shattered to have any hope of becoming law has reignited a debate among Democrats about what elements of the plan to prioritize as they move forward. try to save him.

After spending much of the last year pondering the ambition of the measure they called Build Back Better, Democrats have pivoted hard in recent days, beginning to consider a much narrower bill designed to responding to requests from Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. , whose rejection of the broader $2.2 trillion measure brought it to an abrupt end in December.

Conversations focused on elements of the package that Mr Manchin had previously indicated he supported, including universal pre-kindergarten, a $500 billion package to tackle climate change and a measure to reduce the cost of medicines on prescription. And some Democrats have discussed prioritizing the Affordable Care Act’s expanded grants.

“What the president calls pieces, I hope will be a major piece of legislation in the future,” President Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters on Thursday. “It may be more limited, but it’s still significant.”

The talks are still in their infancy and Mr Manchin warned on Thursday that they still have a long way to go, saying such talks would start with “a blank sheet of paper”.

He suggested that Congress should first tackle the national debt, inflation and the continuing toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Get your financial house in order, get this inflation down, get Covid out of the way, then we’ll roll,” Manchin said on Thursday, reiterating his longstanding concerns about rising inflation and mounting debt. national. “I want to see what is doable – what we can do reasonably and doable.”

The comments highlighted the Democrats’ laborious path to crafting a noticeably smaller package. Given the equally divided Senate, the party is trying to pass the legislation using a streamlined process known as budget reconciliation, which protects tax legislation from a filibuster, allowing it to pass by a simple majority.

Mr. Biden’s remarks on Wednesday about breaking the bill raised questions about how Democrats would move forward with this strategy and whether some liberals who have grown frustrated with the stalled process would support the loss of more priorities. The $2.2 trillion plan that passed the House in late November had already been significantly scaled back from a $3.5 trillion plan to appease Mr. Manchin and another centrist Democrat, Senator Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona.

“I think we can split the pack, get as much as we can now, and come back and fight for the rest later,” Biden said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding he was confident. that “big chunks” of the plan could become law.

Democrats are also discussing ways to address Mr. Manchin’s objections to a proposal that would provide expanded monthly payments to most families with children, which was established under the 1999 Pandemic Relief Act. 9 trillion dollars enacted last year. The payments helped keep millions of children out of poverty and were widely used to help pay for rent, food and other essentials, but expired in December without congressional action.

Options include putting in place new restrictions on these payments, such as limiting the amount and eligible households. Mr. Biden conceded on Wednesday, however, that he was not sure he could preserve this tax credit, given Mr. Manchin’s reservations.

A smaller package would force Democrats to make painful policy choices they have so far tried to avoid and could alienate the grassroots lawmakers they would need to pass the plan with slim majorities in both chambers. And because of the strict rules governing reconciliation, Democrats essentially have one remaining chance to push through a major bill before the midterm elections.

While some lawmakers and aides have mooted the possibility of mandating stand-alone votes on individual elements of the package, it’s unlikely enough Republicans would back either law, leaving it falling short. of the 60 votes needed to get it through. a buccaneer. Republicans have remained unanimously opposed to the plan since Mr. Biden first outlined it just under a year ago.

“The one thing I won’t do is bemoan the pieces we haven’t received and call it a failure,” said Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa, one of the Democratic lawmakers. facing a tough re-election in November. “I’m heartened that the public knows it’s still a huge priority.”

Some Democrats hope the failure to pass a voting rights overhaul this week could help smooth the legislative path ahead for the domestic policy plan, with lawmakers keen to show more evidence of what a Democratic-controlled Washington could accomplish.

“I said once we’ve gone through this kind of suffrage moment, we need to go back, and we need to figure out what we have 50 votes to pass,” said Senator Tina Smith, Minnesota Democrat. “We have to pass it and not wait.”

Any effort to quickly reach a deal could be further complicated by the need to negotiate a catch-all spending deal with Republicans to keep government open beyond Feb. 18.

“I would be interested to hear how the White House wants us to prioritize this — my concern is that this is our last window to get an appropriations bill,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

Key lawmakers from both chambers have resumed spending talks in recent weeks. When asked if an effort to revive the social policy plan could derail those negotiations, Sen. Richard J. Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it would likely be the case.

He added: “It takes the oxygen out of the air.”

Other senators involved in the spending talks have suggested they may be boosted by an effort by some lawmakers to provide more pandemic relief to counter the toll of the latest coronavirus variant and offer additional support to restaurants, hospitals and other institutions.

“I could see where some sort of Covid relief package is maybe sort of a sidecar on the bigger bill,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. He said he had briefly spoken to Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, about the issue in recent weeks, but the administration has not formally requested emergency funding.

“I think the biggest opportunity is just the fact that there’s no obvious work on the floor,” Blunt said. “And that’s something we have to do.”

Carl Hulse contributed report.

With backstop bill stalled, Democrats weigh priorities

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