President Biden on Friday pitched the importance of his economic agenda, arguing that the two bills he’s trying to get passed "are literally about competitiveness versus complacency, about opportunity versus decay, and about leading the world or continuing to let the world move by us." At the same time, he conceded he and Democratic leaders won’t get everything they want.
Here’s what you need to know.
Biden: ‘We’re Not Going to Get $3.5 Trillion’
President Joe Biden acknowledged Friday that the new spending proposed in his economic plan will have to shrink below the $3.5 trillion level set by Democratic leaders and sought by progressives in his party. He insisted, though, that both that Build Back Better plan and a bipartisan infrastructure bill will get enacted, even as intraparty disputes continue to cloud their path forward.
"I’ll be honest with you, we’re probably not going to get $3.5 trillion this year," Biden said at an event at a Connecticut childcare center to promote the legislation. "We’re going to get something less than that. But I’m going to negotiate. I’m going to get it done with the grace of god and the good will of neighbors and the creek not rising, as my grandpop would say."
Biden later added that he’s convinced Democrats will get the bills done: "We’re not going to get $3.5 trillion. We’ll get less than that. But we’re going to get it and we’re going to come back and get the rest."
Sinemanchin still holding out: Biden’s professed optimism belies the struggles he and his party have faced in coming together on both the total spending in the economic plan and the specifics included in it. CNN’s Manu Raju reported Friday morning that both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) "made clear to their colleagues this week that a deal on the party's sweeping economic package is far from secured."
Sinema reportedly told lawmakers that she felt House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision a couple of weeks ago to delay a promised vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package — legislation that Sinema played a key role in negotiating — represented a "breach in trust." House progressives threatened to withhold their support for that bill before the broader social welfare and climate package had been settled. Sinema reportedly also indicated to lawmakers that she preferred that the House pass the infrastructure bill before she backs a broader economic package.
Raju adds that, on a call with fellow Democrats, neither Sinema nor Manchin endorsed the smaller spending range of $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion that Biden has proposed — a range the progressives insist is too small.
Both Sinema and Manchin also object to specific elements of the Build Back Better package and are reportedly urging that some provisions be dropped to narrow the overall scope of the plan.
"In particular," Raju reports, "Manchin raised concerns over the proposed expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing coverage -- something that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, has contended is a red line for him and other progressives." Progressives are pushing to keep a broader array of programs in the legislation while reducing costs by limiting the duration of some parts of the plan. That approach carries the risk that some programs don’t get renewed — and it rankles fiscal conservatives who worry that Democrats won’t cover the true costs of their long-term agenda.
Biden hints at one possible cut: Reports this week indicate that Democrats are debating a variety of potential cuts as they look to scale back the overall spending in their plan. In his speech Friday, Biden hinted at one provision that could be on the chopping block, saying that he didn’t know if he could push through his proposal to spend $109 billion over 10 years to provide two free years of community college.
The bottom line: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday told the hosts of Pod Save America that time is running short and the negotiations can’t drag on forever. "We're just in kind of the messy, messy phase," she said, where the parties involved are shaking their "arguing for what they think is most important." Those arguments don’t appear to be yielding much progress, though — at least not publicly. "[A]fter several one-on-one meetings between the president, Manchin and Sinema, Democrats don’t seem any closer to agreeing on a framework than a month ago," The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes. "This is fueling frustration among senators who see this Congress as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass bold reforms as the House and possibly the Senate are in danger of flipping to Republicans in the 2022 midterm election."
Strong Support for Taxing the Rich to Pay for Biden Agenda: Poll
Lawmakers are still wrangling over the size, scope and content of President Biden’s social and economic agenda, but according to new poll data, the majority of Americans already agree on how to pay for it: by taxing the rich.
In a poll of 1,226 likely voters conducted last week by Vox and Data for Progress, more than 70% of respondents expressed support for taxing high-income households to help pay for Democrats’ plan to spend as much as $3.5 trillion on a variety of social programs. Seventy-two percent "strongly" or "somewhat" backed the idea of increasing capital gains on wealthy households, while 71% supported higher income taxes on the top 2% and limiting deductions for business owners.
A majority also expressed support for increasing funding for the IRS to ensure that businesses and the wealthy pay the taxes they owe, and for raising the corporate tax rate.
Less certainty on specific proposals: While 63% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat support Biden’s Build Back proposal – which the poll described as a "$3.5 trillion proposal that would expand Medicare benets to include vision, hearing, and dental care, make long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities, healthcare, and child care more affordable, extend tax cuts for families with children, and create clean energy jobs" – there was less agreement on what the most important elements of the plan are.
The single provision that received the most support is raising taxes, which 13% of respondents chose as their top priority. Twelve percent chose expanding Medicare as their top priority, while another 12% said funding long-term care for older adults and people with disabilities was most important.
Other elements that some Democratic lawmakers say are crucial, such as funding for child care, universal pre-K and free community college, received less support, with less than 5% of respondents saying they were a top priority.
Sanders blames the press: Although polls show that a majority of Americans generally support the Biden agenda, they also show that the public doesn’t know much about the details of the plan. This will only make Democrats’ job that much harder as they try to determine which provisions to cut and which to leave in as they work to trim the size of the overall plan.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday issued a statement accusing the media of failing to explain the Biden plan to the public, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who leveled a similar charge earlier this week.
"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better," Sanders said. "And the polling numbers go astronomically high when people understand that this $3.5 trillion bill will be paid for by demanding that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes."
But "the mainstream media has done an exceptionally poor job in covering what actually is in the legislation," Sanders charged. "There have been endless stories about the politics of passing Build Back Better, the role of the president, the conflicts in the House and the Senate, the opposition of two senators, the size of the bill, etc. – but very limited coverage as to what the provisions of the bill are and the crises for working people that they address."
Saying the Biden plan is "one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for working people in the modern history of our country," Sanders called on the press to do a better job explaining it. "The American people have a right to know what's in it," he said. "My hope is that mainstream media will fulfill their responsibilities and make that happen."
But, but, but: Sanders’ critique undoubtedly has some truth to it in that the media has extensively covered Democrats’ intraparty disputes and the politics surrounding the two major pieces of legislation. But those disputes have also created massive uncertainty about what exactly the Build Back Better plan will and won’t include.
Covid Shaves Years Off Life Expectancy in Hardest-Hit States: Study
Covid-19 reduced life expectancy in the U.S. by a year and a half in 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last summer. Now, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles has determined that in some states, the loss has been even more severe.
In an analysis published in the BMJ Open journal, UCLA sociologist Patrick Heuveline found that in the past year, Covid has reduced life expectancy by more than two years in 16 states, with the worst results concentrated in the South and Southwest. (See the map from Bloomberg incorporating the study’s results below.)
Texas, for example, saw its life expectancy at birth drop by 2.6 years, to 76.4. Arizona also saw a 2.6-year reduction, to 77.2, while South Dakota saw a reduction of 2.5 years, to 76.8.
- People Talk About the Cost of That Big Federal Bill but Don’t Know What’s in It. So We’ll Tell You – Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
- Manchin and Sinema Are Forcing Truly Terrible Choices on Democrats – Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, Washington Post
- Is It Time for Kyrsten Sinema to Leave the Democratic Party? – Michelle Cottle, New York Times
- 5 Theories on What Kyrsten Sinema Wants – Jonathan Chait, New York
- Problems with the Democratic Child Care and Pre-K Proposals – Matt Bruenig, People’s Policy Project
- The Democrats’ Dilemma: Build Back Faster or Build Back Longer? – Grace Segers, The New Republic
- Ignore the Naysayers. A Full-Employment Recovery Is Possible – Mike Konczal, The Nation
- No More Trillions – James Freeman, Wall Street Journal
- The Case Against Means Testing – Li Zhou, Vox
- The Case for Minting a $1 Trillion Coin to Deal With America’s Debt Ceiling – Nathan Tankus, Guardian
- A New Problem for Democrats: Americans Suddenly Want Smaller Government After All – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- Hey, Democrats: Raise the Debt Limit Higher Than Anyone Can Imagine – Bill Scher, Washington Monthly
- The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think – Zeynep Tufekci, New York Times