WASHINGTON — With a staple of the Democratic domestic agenda set to be enacted within days, progressives in Congress are grudgingly but decisively rallying around a climate, health and tax package that is ambitious from the cradle to the grave. The shadow of the social policy they once called for an overhaul.
Faced with the reality of their party’s narrow majority in both the House and Senate, liberals appear ready to accept a package that has been written, trimmed and rewritten to suit the centrists in their ranks — and then presented as the only option to achieve balance Give them a fraction of what they want with Democrats still in control of the government.
“It’s a gun in your head,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is independent of Vermont and chairman of the budget committee, said in an interview Friday. He lamented that two Democratic diehards — Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona — insisted on sharply scaling back spending and tax increases before they agreed to a package.
“Am I disappointed by this? Of course I am,” he said, refusing to commit to voting for the final product. “On the other hand, what you have to weigh is that the future of the planet is at stake.”
The measure, which faces a crucial test vote on Saturday and is expected to pass Congress with unanimous Republican opposition by the end of next week, will achieve some of the Democrats’ long-sought priorities for a victory for the party and President Biden in the midterm congressional elections . With nearly $400 billion in climate and energy proposals, it’s the largest single federal investment to slow the planet’s warming — “nothing to sneeze at,” Mr. Sanders conceded.
It would also expand the scope of Affordable Care Act subsidies and make changes to the tax code to make it more equitable. The legislation would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs directly with drugmakers for the first time in its history, resulting in a major failure for the pharmaceutical industry, potentially saving some older Americans thousands of dollars a year.
“The American people are on our side,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, announced at a news conference on Friday. “The American people know we’ve been pushing these priorities, and they overwhelmingly support what the Democrats are doing.”
But nothing in the measure suggests investing in public education and expanding the nation’s parental safety net by providing childcare, paid time off or monthly payments to most families with children.
Sitting in a conference room on Friday, Mr. Sanders — who has pushed to spend as much as $6 trillion — examined some of the omissions, describing much of the legislation as a small step forward. In recent days, he has voiced his disappointment in the Senate at what he sees as the bill’s inadequacies and vowed to force a vote in the coming days to try to expand it.
Still others angered progressives. Mr. Manchin secured several concessions for his coal-producing state and the fossil fuel industry, including tax credits for carbon capture technology and a federal government auction of more public water and land for drilling. He also won a separate commitment to complete a controversial pipeline in West Virginia.
What’s in the Democrats’ climate and tax bills
a new proposal. A $369 billion climate and tax package proposed by Senate Democrats in July could have far-reaching consequences for the environment and the economy. Here are some key terms:
Ms. Sinema dropped a proposal to narrow the tax break enjoyed by wealthy businessmen, including private equity executives and hedge fund managers, that would allow them to pay much lower tax rates on certain income than others.
Mr. Schumer noted Friday that while some lawmakers were disappointed that the proposal was eliminated, several liberal senators were pleased that the proposal had been replaced in the bill by a new tax on corporate stock buybacks.
Still, progressives’ embrace of the plan reflects a major shift in their attitudes. With Democrats taking new control of Washington last year, liberals within the party have envisioned a transformative domestic policy plan that would cost up to $3.5 trillion to provide children with increased taxes on businesses and the wealthiest Americans. Childcare and parental leave, support for greater care for the elderly and the disabled, and expansion of public education.
They have flexed their muscles at key junctures, once refusing to support a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, an important part of Mr Biden’s agenda, until they can be convinced of the benefits of social policy and climate planning. success. But Democratic leaders have no leeway in a 50-50 Senate with Republicans firmly opposed, giving Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema an effective veto on the plan.
Manchin, a defender of coal and oil, said he feared overspending would fuel inflation. Ms Sinema accepts investments to fight climate change, but is hesitant about plans to reform the tax code and raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Negotiations dragged on for months, and just a few weeks ago they appeared to have collapsed, with climate and tax measures stalled. But over the course of a week, both Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema showed up after making big changes to win over their support.
The Liberals say the resulting package is smaller than they would like, but clearly shows their leverage on Capitol Hill and the White House, arguing that their strong advocacy for a more ambitious bill could help prevent the plan further reduction.
“You have to admit, it’s a huge step forward, a huge progressive victory,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview. “That’s not to say everything is a victory for progress.”
That measure is still subject to change. On Friday, senators announced plans to allocate $4 billion to fight drought in the arid western states, while Senate rules officials are examining whether the bill meets the obscure requirements of the budget reconciliation process. The rules, which protect the measure from Republican obstruction, could force revisions in the coming days.
Despite liberal ambitions, especially after the successful passage of a $1.9 trillion pandemic aid law in March 2021 without a Republican vote, some Democrats say rising inflation in recent months has curbed inflation Enthusiasm for a substantial increase in federal spending.
“Looking back, the $3.5 trillion package was too aggressive — I know other people would disagree,” Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said in an interview. “But when you have a 50-50 Senate, the idea that we can address everything in one bill is again probably too radical.”
Mr. Warner, who helped negotiate a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that allowed Democrats to start developing a package and worked closely with Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema to allay their concerns, acknowledged the legislation was disappointing. “You know, it’s obviously been a long and winding road, but I think it’s a really good product,” he added.
The Liberals are particularly focused on investing in climate change, explicitly praising young activists and voters for pushing their party to action.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — the Finance Committee has never done anything like it,” said committee chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Democratic leaders said they believed they had enough support from Democrats in both chambers to push the measure through Congress next week. In a sign of that confidence, House Democratic leaders asked lawmakers to prepare to return to Washington on Aug. 12 to finally pass the measure.