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Biden Spending Plan Is “Dead.” Do Dems Have a Plan B?

DC: U.S. Capitol, Senator Manchin Speaks to Media
Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Good evening. We hope you had a meaningful Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Voting rights and the filibuster continue to be the focus in Congress this week, as Senate Democrats look to force a showdown over legislation that combines two bills already passed by the House, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The Democratic efforts appear doomed — though Democrats are reportedly exploring procedural options for bypassing GOP opposition. It should make for an interesting week, but it may all just set up yet another news cycle dominated by stories of Democrats failing to overcome intraparty divides.

Shocking, we know.

Build Back Better Is "Dead." What’s Democrats’ Plan B?

The White House shot down a report Tuesday that it is working on a scaled back version of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan that aims to salvage climate change measures while cutting programs including the child tax credit and paid family leave.

Reuters reported Tuesday morning that the Biden administration is looking to "reset" talks with lawmakers as it tries to rescue elements of the president’s stalled bill. A slimmed-down version of the plan would likely include more than $1 trillion in new spending, Reuters’ Andrea Shalal and Jarrett Renshaw reported, but it could pare back or completely scrap proposals to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in programs like paid family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and home health care. The White House and Democrats are also reportedly considering setting lower income caps for the child tax credit and other programs.

Reuters added that the White House is looking to shape the plan to accommodate the demands of Sen. Joe Manchin, the centrist West Virginia Democrat who effectively scuttled the House version of the bill last month by announcing he couldn’t support it. In an evenly divided Senate, and with Republicans uniformly opposed to the Biden plan, Democrats need Manchin’s vote — and that of every other member of their caucus.

"There's not a lot of mystery anymore about what Manchin would accept," one unnamed source reported to be working on the revised plan told Reuters. "We need to calibrate as much as possible to what he can accept, and then there needs to be a personal ask (by Biden) for his vote."

The White House calls the report "wrong": White House spokesman Andrew Bates quickly denied the Reuters report, per The Hill. "Reuters is wrong," Bates said in a statement. "We are always in touch with members about this, and the substance and details of this report are off-base."

Will breaking up BBB be Democrats’ Plan B? Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) acknowledged Sunday in an appearance on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that the most recent version of the Build Back Better package is "dead," but he argued that Democrats could still salvage the main pieces of the package.

"The most recent version of it is not going to happen, but if you look at the core of the bill, I think the core is education and workforce and things like reduced child care and education expenses, workforce training and then support for the workforce in areas like health care," he said. "There are other pieces of the bill that are more controversial. I still believe we're going to find a core of this bill, whatever we call it, we're going to find the core of the bill and pass it, and it will deal directly with some of these inflation concerns."

Some House Democrats running for re-election in swing districts have been pushing party leaders to break up the massive spending bill and instead hold a series of votes on popular provisions — even if those separate pieces can’t pass. The Washington Posts’ Marianna Sotomayor reports:

"These members have argued to top House leaders in recent days — so far, to no avail — that holding votes on narrow measures such as curbing prescription drug costs and extending the child tax credit would help Democrats make a case that they can improve voters’ lives economically despite soaring inflation and other issues that have dragged down Biden’s approval ratings. …
"Members believe it is entirely possible to strip out the prescription drug and the child tax credit provisions and pass them as stand-alone bills because some Senate Republicans have previously expressed supporting reforms. However, there has not been any formal outreach to Republicans for a bipartisan path forward and no guarantee that the necessary 10 would support these policies."

Democrats including Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) reportedly pushed back at a meeting earlier this month when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) argued against abandoning the larger package, which he said still had a chance of passing. "If there is still hope for Manchin to agree, we need to figure out when that’s going to be and what we are doing if he doesn’t meet that deadline because in the past, he hasn’t. What’s our next plan?" Wild told the Post.

Sotomayor reports that another group of "front-liners" running in competitive districts is looking to move on, emphasizing the bipartisan infrastructure plan passed last year and other legislative accomplishments instead of getting bogged down by in the Build Back Better quagmire.

The bottom line: Democrats will be circling back to Build Back Better after this week’s voting rights push, but it’s still not clear how they want to approach the package and if they can coalesce around a strategy for the legislation.

Government Website for Free Covid Tests Goes Live Early

The website that allows Americans to order free at-home tests for Covid-19 went live Tuesday, a day before the official launch date of January 19.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the site is being tested ahead of its official launch. "COVIDtests.gov is in the beta phase right now, which is a standard part of the process typically as it's being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out," Psaki said. "It will officially launch tomorrow morning."

At least in the beta phase, the official site sends users to a web page hosted by the U.S. Postal Service – https://special.usps.com/testkits – where households can order four tests.

The site was accepting basic shipping information as of mid-day Tuesday, telling users that tests would start going out in "late January." President Biden announced last week that the federal government plans to order one billion tests for distribution, with 500 million to be made available as the public-facing website opens this week.

It’s all Omicron now: Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that as of the week ending January 15, the Omicron variant accounts for 99.5% of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S. — an astounding increase over the last few weeks, given that it made up less than 10% of cases just over a month ago. The surge in the new variant has boosted demand for take-home tests, which have been hard to come by in many parts of the country.

Speaking Monday at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed the question of whether Omicron could eventually provide widespread immunity to the population, bringing an end to the pandemic. "It is an open question whether it will be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for," he said. "I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant."

Chart of the Day: US Lagging on Vaccinations

Millions of Americans who refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19 are sticking to their guns. As a result, the U.S. has the second-lowest vaccination rate of the 15 countries monitored by Morning Consult, with only Russia recording a lower percentage. Based on more than 52,000 interviews conducted earlier this month, 34% of Americans say they have not yet been vaccinated — and fully one in five say they are unwilling to do so.

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