President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) following the Senate vote to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, Aug. 10, 2021, in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House. (Adam Schultz/Official White House Photo)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met with congressional Democrats on Capitol Hill Thursday morning to pitch lawmakers on a new slimmed-down framework for what would be included in a massive social reform package, according to senior administration officials.
The $1.75 trillion blueprint that Biden presented to Democrats includes a universal pre-K program for 3-and-4 year-olds, limits child care costs so that families do not pay more than 7% of their income, and extends funding for both for six years. Those two programs are estimated to cost $400 billion.
It would also extend for a year the expanded child tax credit; improve long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities; extend expanded tax credits for the Affordable Care Act; and provide the tax credits to 4 million uninsured people in states where Medicaid has not been expanded.
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Notably Biden’s new plan does not include paid family and medical leave, a major initiative which had been included in earlier versions of the Build Back Better plan before it was trimmed to meet demands from moderate Democrats.
Paid leave would set groundbreaking policy in the U.S., which is one of six wealthy countries in the world where no national paid parental policy exists. Most daycare centers don’t accept newborns until they are six weeks old.
The White House said that Biden developed the new plan after “hearing input from all sides and negotiating in good faith with Senators Manchin and Sinema, Congressional Leadership, and a broad swath of Members of Congress” and is confident his plan could pass Congress.
Biden also spoke to the nation Thursday morning, just before he left for a long-planned trip to Europe and a major climate conference.
Democratic support unclear
The framework he presented to Democrats also provides $550 billion for climate change policy, ranging from tax credits for clean energy to investments in making communities climate resilient through a civilian climate corps.
The plan would be paid for with a 15% minimum tax on the corporate profits that large corporations — those with over $1 billion in profits — report to shareholders, as well as a new surtax on the income of multi-millionaires and billionaires, the wealthiest 0.02% of Americans, the White House said. It would apply a 5% rate above income of $10 million, and an additional 3% surtax on income above $25 million.
It’s unclear if Democrats will support the new framework, particularly two Senate Democrats, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who have objected to tax raises on corporations and four weeks of paid parental leave.
House progressives have also warned that they want to see the bill’s legislative text before making a decision to vote on the package.
The leader of the House Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), said that she has an idea of what’s in the framework, but wants to see the bill’s text, according to Capitol Hill pool reports.
“We want to see the actual text because we don’t want any confusion and misunderstandings,” she said. “My understanding is that the framework is very general. So let’s turn it into legislative text. If 90% of the text is already written as the speaker has said, then it should be very quick — we can do anywhere from two to seven days.”
Several major policy initiatives that Biden campaigned on have been stripped from the framework, such as paid parental leave, free community college, and climate change policy such as the Clean Energy Performance Program, which incentivized utilities to switch to clean energy and penalized those who don’t.
Democrats also tried to include an expansion of the Affordable Care Act to include dental benefits in Medicare. The framework Biden is expected to show to lawmakers would help reduce premiums and have Medicare cover hearing services.
Democrats have also struggled to include immigration policy in the package after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that lawmakers cannot create a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented people through reconciliation, the process being used for Build Back Better that requires just a simple majority vote in the evenly divided Senate.
The White House specifies that it would “reform our broken immigration system, consistent with the Senate’s reconciliation rules.” Some advocates have pushed for lawmakers to overturn the parliamentarian’s ruling in the interests of getting immigration reform enacted.
The framework Biden is presenting to lawmakers would provide $100 billion to help reduce immigration backlogs, expand legal representation and help with processing at the border.
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