Democrats, cut budget bill, push for compromise by end of week

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats said Tuesday they hope to reach a compromise on of President Biden sprawling domestic policy plan by the end of the week, struggling to show progress after weeks of public wrangling and private negotiations with holdout centrists.

The renewed urgency came as Mr Biden privately conceded that key elements of his social safety net and climate proposal were likely to be scrapped or drastically scaled back to accommodate a measure that would be much more smaller than the original $3.5 trillion plan that Democrats sketched over the summer.

During a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, the president reiterated that the overall price would be around $2 trillion and suggested it could be as low as $1.75 trillion, said two people who knew the discussion well. They also warned that details were still evolving. In the last days, Mr Biden had previously offered to spend $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion over 10 years.

He told Democrats that a plan to offer two years of free community college should most likely be jettisoned, according to the lawmakers present. The concession came days after negotiators began preparing to drop a clean electricity program intended to contribute to the rapid replacement of coal and gas-fired power plants, which the senator opposes Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, whose concerns about the package are fueling the talks.

Mr Biden also raised the possibility of shortening a extension of monthly payments to families with childrenpotentially extending the program for a year with permanent refundability, compared to the longer timeframe sought by many Democrats, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

The overarching bill still had to fight climate change, expand health care benefits, provide some federal coverage for preschool and home care, and be fully funded by some tax increases. (Mr. Biden, participants said, focused largely on proposed spending.)

Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about the fate of their flagship domestic policy plan amid intense divisions within their ranks over its contents and little information about private talks with two key centrist senators who have pushed back on its cost and his litter: Mr. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, emerged from a private luncheon to announce that there had been “universal agreement in this room that we have to come to an agreement, and we have to do it, and we want to do it this week.

“Everyone is going to be disappointed with some things, but everyone is going to be happy with some things,” he added.

Speaking privately to lawmakers on Tuesday, Mr Biden said he wanted a deal before heading to Glasgow for a climate conference at the end of the month. He met separately with a group of moderate lawmakers and a group of liberals to discuss emerging details of the plan.

As they consider ways to narrow the bill, some Democrats have pushed to include fewer programs. But lawmakers said many of the proposals in Mr. Biden’s original plan looked likely to stay in one form or another, with shortened terms and limited eligibility.

“That’s not the number we want — we’ve always tried to make it as high as possible,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The idea that we can put these programs in place, a multitude of programs, and get them started so that they deliver immediate transformational benefits to people, is what we’re focusing on.”

In order to circumvent unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats are using a fast track budget process known as reconciliation to protect him from a buccaneer. But they still have to win the votes of their 50 senators and nearly all House Democrats.

With deadlines looming to maintain government funding after Dec. 3 and avoid a first-ever federal debt default, Democrats are eager to wrap up work on their policy ambitions.

Much of the effort to bridge intraparty divides has focused on Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, who both met with Mr. Biden on Tuesday. Ms Sinema missed lunch with the Democratic senators because she was discussing the plan with senior White House officials.

Mr. Manchin also privately huddled with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the budget committee and champion of the original $3.5 trillion plan, according to an aide.

Mr. Biden, whom Democrats have pressed to take a more active role in the talks, spent much of Tuesday discussing the package with lawmakers from the liberal and moderate wings of the party.

“After a day of constructive meetings, the President is more confident this evening about the path forward to deliver strong and sustained economic growth for the American people that benefits everyone,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary. , in a press release.

They have little time left to resolve their differences. Some Democrats want to vote on a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill by Oct. 31, when a slew of transportation programs will expire unless Congress acts. But progressives in the House are withholding their vote for this measure until the Senate passes the reconciliation invoice. Some Democrats hope that if they reach a compromise on the reconciliation measure, that will be enough to persuade liberals in the House to pass the infrastructure bill.

“A framework means different things to different people,” said Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota. “To me, that means there’s a sufficiently detailed description of what we’re going to do, that I won’t be surprised when I see the legislative language, and I think that’s entirely possible.”

One of the biggest hurdles for Democrats is the scope of the climate provisions, after Mr. Manchin criticized the clean electricity program and a carbon tax. (Senator Jon Tester of Montana, another key centrist, also said he was concerned about the tax.)

Democrats are in talks to reallocate $150 billion that had been earmarked for an effort to get electric utilities to cut emissions faster — something Mr. Manchin opposes — to fund instead of other climate change efforts. These include additional tax credits for solar and nuclear power and capturing carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants. They also include grants and loans to incentivize emission reductions in steel, concrete and other industrial uses.

“We’re going with tax incentives — we’re basically going to incentivize people to move forward with the technology that we have,” Manchin said on Tuesday. “We’re going to take the best of technology and use it for the good of the world.”

But for liberal Democrats, that may not be enough for legislation they see as their best chance to help tackle the growing burden of climate change.

“There is a very clear concern, and we will work very, very hard to get legislation as strong as possible,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader. “Bottom line: we need 51 votes in the Senate.”

Catherine Edmondson, Jim Tankerley and Chris Cameron contributed report.

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