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Biden’s big social spending bill caught in snags in the Senate

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Biden’s big social spending bill caught in snags in the Senate

  • President Joe Biden meets with Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on September 28, 2021, in the Oval Office.
    Adam Schultz/White House President Joe Biden meets with Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on September 28, 2021, in the Oval Office.

President Joe Biden’s giant social and climate spending bill on Thursday night appeared stalled in the U.S. Senate for some time to come, a deep frustration for congressional Democrats who aimed to pass the ambitious package by the Christmas recess.

At risk also is a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, the last payment of which was made Wednesday. The expansion was included in Biden’s bill, known as Build Back Better, and Democrats in the evenly divided Senate say they can’t pass it separately because Republicans won’t support it.

In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that a key immigration provision added by the House to the bill has been rejected by the Senate parliamentarian.

Biden in a statement on Thursday night said that he spoke earlier in the day with congressional leaders about his negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III, the moderate West Virginia Democrat whose objections to the funding of the expanded child tax credit have held up the Build Back Better measure.

“My team and I are having ongoing discussions with Senator Manchin; that work will continue next week,” Biden said. “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead; Leader (Chuck) Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as early as possible.”

During Thursday’s White House press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the administration would not go into details on a timeline for when the bill would be passed.

“The president is determined to get this done as soon as possible,” she said.

Negotiations have foundered over objections by Manchin, who has said the price tag for “Build Back Better” should account for a 10-year expansion of the child tax credit, which would help lift millions of children and families out of poverty

The bill now includes just a one-year expansion, through 2022, and adding another nine years of the revamped tax credit would push the overall cost far beyond what Manchin has said he would accept. 

Manchin told CNN earlier this week that Build Back Better should be “within the limits of what we can afford.”

Manchin also has objected to the inclusion of a universal paid parental and family leave provision.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the bill would spend about $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Budget analysts project another roughly $500 billion in tax breaks, putting the total cost at about $2.2 trillion over a decade, higher than earlier estimates from the White House.

The bill includes historic investments in child care and universal pre-K for 3-and-4 year-olds. It would also for the first time give Medicare the ability to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of some prescription drugs, and offer coverage of hearing aids for seniors, among other things. 

“Build Back Better is urgently needed to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health care, child care, and elder care,” Biden said. “Notwithstanding the unrelenting Republican obstruction — not a single Republican is willing to move forward on the bill — I am determined to see this bill enacted into law, to give America’s families the breathing room they deserve. We also need urgent action on climate change and other priorities in the Build Back Better plan.”

However, it’s become unclear if an extension to the child tax credit will be included, given Manchin’s stance.

When a Huffington Post reporter asked Manchin Wednesday if he supported the child tax credit, Manchin lost his temper and did not answer the question.

“This is bullshit,” he said. “You’re bullshit.”

Democrats temporarily expanded the child tax credit earlier this year under the American Rescue Plan from $2,000 to $3,600 for kids under 6, and to $3,000 for kids between 6 and 17. 

Republicans have objected to the overall cost of the bill. 

The legislation also includes $555 billion in climate spending and tax credits, primarily in the form of $320 billion in new and extended clean energy tax credits.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) is also urging the Senate to not remove the ban on offshore drilling off the Atlantic, Pacific and the eastern Gulf of Mexico from its version of the bill. Manchin has raised opposition to offshore drilling bans, according to the New York Times.

“We have a moral obligation to urgently reduce our carbon dioxide and methane pollution, which are fueling catastrophic extreme weather events across the country,” Castor said in a statement. “That’s why we must permanently ban drilling on our coasts and address the pollution spewed by hundreds of abandoned, leaky rigs and pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, which is also undergoing scrutiny by the parliamentarian so that it complies with a process called reconciliation, which allows passage with a simple majority in the evenly divided Senate.

Schumer said he met with Biden and other Democratic senators about the Senate stalemate. “All I’m saying is that we had a very good discussion on voting rights and BBB,” Schumer said, according to Capitol Hill pool reports. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said that she had a virtual meeting with the president and vice president, along with Manchin, on passing voting protections.

Immigration policy also hangs in the balance. 

The House passed its version of Build Back Better in late November, and wrapped in temporary work and deportation protections through a parole program that allows some undocumented people to change their status to prevent deportation. 

The Senate is now waiting for a decision by the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, who is nonpartisan and provides advice and help on Senate rules and procedures, on whether the immigration provisions in the package can be passed through reconciliation.

However, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday night that MacDonough rejected Democrats’ immigration proposals.

Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he was “disappointed” about the parliamentarian’s ruling, according to Capitol Hill pool reports.

“We’re considering what options remain,” he said.

Many immigration advocates and House progressives were not satisfied with those provisions as they pushed Congress to include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people in the bill. 

Democrats have tried to include a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people through the reconciliation package, but were blocked by the Senate parliamentarian from including those provisions. 

Many advocates and progressive Democrats have argued that the parliamentarian is merely an adviser and that the Senate could overrule her opinion.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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