WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden on Thursday hailed a nascent Democratic package of climate, health care and tax initiatives as “a giant step forward” for the country as congressional leaders began voting on a bill campaign season law that they have presented as a big help for voters struggling with inflation.
A day after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and conservative Sen. Joe Manchin stunned Washington by resurrecting components of a compromise many believed dead, early signs were encouraging for the party.
After Schumer briefed Democratic senators on the 725-page measure, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the reaction from lawmakers has been “uniformly positive.” And Reps. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., and Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., suggested they might support the measure even though it lacks higher federal tax deductions for state and local taxes that they have advocated in the past
“We are taking a giant step as a nation,” Biden said at the White House. In a message to lawmakers, he called it a compromise that was “the strongest bill you can pass” to address health care, climate, energy and the cost of living for families. “Pass it, pass it for the American people.”
The measure’s phoenix-like revival came Wednesday, when Manchin unexpectedly agreed to add tax, energy and environmental provisions to a plan he had previously said he wanted to limit, for now, to lowering the price of prescription drugs and healthcare He told reporters Thursday that his talks with Schumer had continued and disputed that it had been reversed.
“I’ve never been upside down in my life and I’ve never left,” Manchin, who has COVID-19 and has stayed away from the Capitol, said on a conference call. He also described what he said he had endured over the past year, when he repeatedly forced Biden and top Democrats to scale back what was initially a $3.5 trillion proposal.
“Nobody in their right mind would go through all the protests and harassment” he was facing, Manchin said, after hammering out a roughly $2 trillion version that the House had passed after insisting on the cut out He said Democrats “let the dogs loose” on him two weeks ago after he told Schumer he wanted a limited measure on health care this month because of inflation fears.
He said he now supported the expanded bill “because I know I’m not adding to inflation” with the deal. And he acknowledged that he wants the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia, to be at the “top of the heap” under the permitting procedures that Biden and congressional leaders have pledged to push through Congress. this fall
Loose ends remain in a 50-50 Senate where support from all Democrats, plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote, is needed to overcome unanimous Republican opposition that seems preordained. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who joined Manchin last year in pushing for cuts and changes to larger versions of the plan, declined to tell reporters her position.
In the closely divided House, Democrats cannot lose more than four votes and will prevail. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., leader of the centrist House Blue Dog coalition, said she would not yet comment on his views. “I don’t think anybody is very satisfied,” said No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “But I think the vast majority believe that the things that are out there are good things.”
Overall, the emerging package would raise $739 billion over a decade from higher taxes on large corporations and hedge fund owners, increase IRS tax collections and reduce the federal costs of cutting drug prices. It would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change initiatives, in what analysts and environmentalists called the largest federal investment ever in clean energy. Another $64 billion would extend health insurance subsidies for three years, leaving $306 billion for a modest hit from massive federal deficits.
The measure is notably less ambitious than the $3.5 trillion version that stumbled, scaled back and ultimately died in Congress last year, largely because of Manchin’s opposition. The new bill lacks many of the party’s initial goals, including funds for a more generous child tax credit, paid family leave, expanded Medicare benefits and health care subsidies for poor families in the U.S. dozen states, mostly Republican and southern, that refused to expand. Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Still, the surprise deal brings Biden and Democrats to the brink of claiming victory on top priorities like tackling global warming and easing health care costs for consumers and raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.
“It’s bigger than anything,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who with other progressives fought unsuccessfully last year against Manchin’s efforts to cut the proposal. After Manchin prevailed, “A lot of us thought this was done unless we got more seats in the Senate, and the fact that we’re still able to do something pretty substantial is impressive.”
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., another of his party’s most conservative lawmakers, called the bill’s prescription drug provisions “the most important piece of legislation we will vote on in this Congress,” along with the measure d last autumn’s infrastructure.
As leaders pitched the plan to their members, the government reported that the economy had contracted for the second quarter in a row. Concerns about a coming recession only heightened worries about the nation’s worst bout with inflation since the 1980s.
Both parties know that inflation and economic anxiety are on the minds of voters. With Republicans expected to win control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fired back at the Democrats’ measure.
“Our colleagues across the aisle have already completely lost Americans’ confidence in the economy, before this reckless taxing and spending. It seems they want to see how low they can go.” he said.
The bill would create tax credits for low- and middle-income buyers of electric vehicles, in addition to subsidies and tax breaks to spur clean energy technology and reduce carbon emissions.
Medicare would begin negotiating the drugs it buys, prescription price increases would be limited, and Medicare beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket drug costs would be capped at $2,000 a year.
AP reporter Matthew Daly contributed to this report.