Democrats have finally driven President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion package of family services, health care and climate initiatives through the House
WASHINGTON — It took half a year but Democrats to drive President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion social and climate initiative package through the House. It doesn’t get easier in the Senate, where painful Republican amendments, restrictive rules and Joe Manchin lurk.
Faced with unwavering GOP opposition, Democrats eventually reached agreement among themselves and eased the deal through the House on November 19. A Democrat did not vote in a chamber controlled by only three votes.
They are negotiating further changes for the final version they hope will receive approval by Christmas 50-50 in the Senate, where they will require every Democratic vote. The changed bill will still require a House pass.
The gauntlet they face:
Bright Side for Democrats
Yes, a few weeks ago the bill’s price tag was $3.5 trillion over 10 years. It passed the House for nearly $2 trillion and will likely fall further in the Senate.
And yes, Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have already forced their party to limit the size and ambition of the measure. Munchkin, at least, wants to cut more now.
But while he angered progressives seeking a more robust measure, neither moderate senator indicated a willingness to blow up the party’s top legislative priority. The two have held months of talks with party leaders, suggesting that each wants a settlement, although one reflects their views.
Things could still get stuck in the Senate, where the debate will begin no earlier than the week of December 6. But Democrats retain a strong chance to implement their plans for increased spending and tax cuts to make child care, health coverage, education and housing more affordable. And slow global warming, largely financed with high levies on the rich and large companies.
Here’s where Republicans can cause real problems for Democrats.
After debating the law for 20 hours, senators can introduce an unlimited number of amendments and force votes with little debate. The so-called Vote-a-Ram can drag on overnight.
The GOP goals would be twofold. They can force changes that weaken the bill by winning only one Democrat. And they could offer amendments that put Democrats on record against popular-sounding ideas without losing ammunition for next year’s midterm elections.
The 2,100-page bill provides a lot of goals.
Want to accuse Democrats of raising gasoline and home heating prices? Give them courage to oppose an amendment blocking new fees on petroleum and natural gas facilities with excessive emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas contributor.
A GOP move to erase the measure’s higher tax cuts for state and local taxes could see them accuse Democrats of protecting the rich, the main beneficiaries of those cuts. Past Republican tax cuts have majorly helped high-end earners.
The amendments may be designed to portray Democrats as offering federal benefits to immigrants in the US without legal authority, some of whom qualify for such help. Or Republicans could propose giving parents more authority over the school curriculum, an issue that helped elect Republican Glenn Youngkin to this month’s Virginia gubernatorial race.
Senate Rules, Weird But Dangerous
Democrats are using a special process that would let them approve the bill by a simple majority, not the usual 60 votes that would otherwise let Republicans kill the law.
But there is a cost: its provisions should be driven primarily by budgetary considerations, not by sweeping policy changes. Opponents can ask the chamber’s nonpartisan lawmaker, Elizabeth McDonough, to decide whether a class violates that requirement, and if it does it almost always falls off the bill.
Immigration may be the Democrats’ most dangerous priority.
The House bill would allow millions of immigrants without permanent legal status in the US to live and work in the US for 10 years before 2011. McDonough recently said that two previous Democratic immigration proposals violated Senate rules.
Republicans can also challenge some provisions to help the government curb drug prices.
Senate changes to the bill seem inevitable, thanks largely to Munchkin, one of Congress’s more conservative Democrats.
They have already helped Biden abandon initial plans to build free community college, provide new dental and vision therapy benefits, and cure energy producers who haven’t weaned themselves off the carbon-heavy fuel. . This was the pillar of Biden’s blueprint for tackling climate change.
Now Manchin is ready to force the bill to remove four weeks’ worth of annual payments, necessary family leave and medical reasons. That $200 billion item is prized by progressives.
Munchkin, whose state is a top coal producer, is angry over some of the remaining provisions aimed at switching to green energy. He has questioned the provision of some new benefits without imposing income limits. With their repeated expressions of concern about inflation, which some say will increase the spending of the measure, the price tag is trending downward.
Cinema helped reduce the cost of the package. He has restrained Democrats from raising tax rates on wealthy Americans and corporations, a number of proposals such as powerful revenue raisers and symbols of class equity. Democrats found other ways to increase tariffs on those groups.
But Arizona rarely details her demands in public, which makes it difficult to read her goals going forward. She recently told Politico that she opposes tax increases that could damage the economy, but considers the bill’s environmental provisions “the most important part of it,” unlike Munchkin.
Other Senate Changes
The House raised the current $10,000 annual limit on allowable state and local tax deductions to $80,000, helping it win votes from Democrats in high-tax, mostly blue states.
But nonpartisan outside groups calculate that the wealthiest Americans will benefit enormously from the change. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., have discussed denying tax breaks to the highest earners.
While the House bill strengthens the government’s ability to curb drug prices, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has talked about moving forward. The language of the House is a compromise that is more polite than is preferred by many Democrats.
The progressive Sanders, Manchin’s ideological opposite, says he is still trying to “strengthen” a bill on climate change, medicine, drug prices and taxing the wealthy.
With Democrats hoping to eventually pass the bill, Wyden and Sanders’ gains seem limited.