Biden Presses Democrats to Pass $1.85 Trillion Build Back Better Plan
President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill Thursday with an urgent message for lawmakers still debating his domestic agenda: "We badly need a vote."
Aiming to unify Democrats behind a slimmed-down, $1.85 trillion version of his Build Back Better plan, Biden delayed a trip to Europe by a few hours to plead with House Democrats to embrace the proposal.
In a closed-door meeting, Biden touted his "framework" for the plan, a still-developing draft that was released to the public later in the day. Biden pushed House Democrats to move quickly to approve his spending plan, thereby opening the door to a vote on a separate bipartisan infrastructure bill that has been on hold since August. "We have a framework that will get 50 votes in the United States Senate," Biden reportedly said. "I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week."
Together, the bills would unlock roughly $3 trillion in spending on a wide variety of public investments and social programs over the next 10 years.
But while many lawmakers offered an enthusiastic reception to Biden’s plea – twice rising to their feet during the meeting to chant "Vote, vote, vote!" according to one attendee – others were wary, citing uncertainty about the final shape of the bill as well as concerns about its support in the Senate.
Progressives defy Biden and Pelosi: With the release of the framework, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pushing for an immediate vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has already been passed by the Senate but has been delayed as part of the struggle over the larger Build Back Better plan.
Liberal Democrats aren’t on board yet, sticking to their strategy of withholding support for the smaller infrastructure bill in order to pressure conservative Democratic senators to back Biden’s larger spending plan. On Thursday they said that the release of the framework was not enough to win their support for the infrastructure bill, forcing Democratic leaders to again abandon efforts to hold a vote on the bill.
In the meeting with Biden, Pelosi amped up the pressure by warning Democrats not to "embarrass" the president by rejecting the infrastructure bill just as he was headed overseas to meet with allies. But that threat was not enough to bring the progressives into the fold, and with success in question, a vote is not expected Thursday – though the situation remains fluid and a vote could occur in the coming days.
Progressives need more: Following their meeting with Biden, progressive lawmakers said they need to see more details about the plan and be convinced that it would win 50 votes in the Senate before they agree to vote in support of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
"We enthusiastically endorse the framework that the president laid out today," Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said after the meeting. However, "there are too many no votes for the [bipartisan infrastructure bill] to pass."
Asked about supporting the smaller infrastructure bill following Biden’s plea for unity, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) offered a succinct reply: "Hell no."
Rep. Cori Bush (D-M)), another key progressive vote, defended their approach. "We need both bills to ride together. And we don’t have that right now," Bush said. "I feel a bit bamboozled because this was not what I thought was coming today," she added, citing the framework’s weaker-than-expected family benefits.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he would push to improve the latest framework by putting provisions related to Medicare benefit expansion and federal authority to negotiate drug prices back into the bill. "What I would say is you have the outline of a very significant piece of legislation — I want us to make it better," Sanders said.
Major hurdles remain: While progressive House Democrats indicated that they support Biden’s plan "in principle," they made it clear that they need two things before they’re willing to move forward to a vote on the infrastructure bill.
First, they need to see final text of the Build Back Better bill, which, despite Pelosi’s assurances to the contrary, is still just a draft, and an incomplete one at that. "We understand that it's 90 percent written," Jayapal told reporters, "that 10 percent should just hopefully be very quick." Final text would allow both bills to advance at the same time, a key demand for progressives.
Second, some progressives are saying they need to hear that the two main obstacles to passing the bill in the Senate — Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) — are on board with the plan. Neither senator offered clear public statements of support Thursday.
Instead, Sinema said simply that she and the White House "have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package," while Manchin deflected a question about his support, saying, "This is all in the hands of the House right now."
Underlining the importance of being certain about the support of the two conservative Democratic senators, Sanders backed the approach House progressives are taking. "I think both of the bills are linked and I think the House of Representatives has a right to know before they sign off on the infrastructure bill that the 50 senators are prepared to support a strong reconciliation," Sanders said.
The bottom line: The White House and Democrats took a big step forward Thursday, greatly improving the odds that a big chunk of Biden’s agenda will become law. But important details still need to be ironed out, leaving the whole effort in a state of flux that could persist for days or longer.
What’s In and What’s Out of Biden’s New Build Back Better Framework
The White House’s latest Build Back Better framework would increase spending and reduce taxes by $1.85 trillion over 10 years, including $1.75 trillion for social and climate programs and $100 billion for immigration reform, a provision that is contingent upon a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian as to whether it complies with the budget reconciliation rules Democrats want to use to pass the package.
The package also includes a host of tax changes that the White House says would more than fully pay for the new costs, raising up to $1.995 trillion — though budget watchers warn that the plan relies too heavily on accounting gimmicks like artificial sunsets for programs that mean the long-term cost of new programs isn’t really covered.
Here’s a rundown of what’s included, and what got left out, of Biden’s framework.
Universal preschool: The plan would establish universal, free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, expanding access for more than 6 million children, the White House says. It adds that parents will be able to send their children to preschool in the setting of their choice, from public schools to child care providers to Head Start.
The framework would also cap families’ child care costs at a maximum of 7% of income for families earning up to 2.5 times their state’s median income. The child care plan includes a work requirement for parents. These programs would be funded for six years at a cost of $400 billion.
Expanded Child Tax Credit for 2022: The American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year expanded the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 or $3,600 per child, depending on age, for couples making up to $150,000 or single parents making up to $112,500. It also made the credit fully refundable. The new framework would extend that expansion for one year, less than the four years Democrats had previously sought. Democrats still hope to extend the credit again, but if lawmakers don’t act, it would revert to $2,000 per child. The new framework would, however, make refundability of the credit permanent.
Expanded health care subsidies and coverage: The framework would provide $130 billion to expand Medicaid coverage and extend expanded Affordable Care Act subsidies for three years, through 2025.
The White House says the plan would provide $0 Affordable Care Act premiums to uninsured people in states that have not expanded Medicaid, leading to some 4 million people gaining coverage. And it estimates that premiums for 9 million Americans who buy their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace would fall by an average of $600 per person per year.
The framework also expands Medicare coverage for hearing services at a cost of $35 billion, though it does not include the more expensive dental or vision coverage that progressives had sought.
Climate provisions: The plan would provide $555 billion for various programs to promote clean energy sources and combat climate change, including $320 billion for ten years of expanded tax credits; $110 billion in investments and incentives for clean energy, technology, manufacturing, and supply chains; $105 billion for investments and incentives to improve resiliency to extreme weather; and $20 billion in incentives to promote government procurement of clean energy technology. In all, the White House touts the package as the largest effort to combat the climate crisis in U.S. history.
Affordable housing: The plan provides $150 billion to enable the construction or improvement of more than 1 million affordable homes and invest in rental assistance by providing vouchers to hundreds of thousands more families, The White House says.
Tax changes: To raise revenue, the plan calls for a new 5% surtax on individual incomes over $10 million and an additional 3% surtax on income above $25 million. It also includes a 15% minimum tax on the profits of corporations with over $1 billion in profits report to shareholders, a 15% global minimum tax for corporations, a 1% tax on stock buybacks, a 50% minimum tax on foreign profits of U.S. corporations and increased funding for IRS enforcement to crack down on tax avoidance by the wealthy. In all, the White House says those tax changes would raise about $1.8 trillion over 10 years, while repealing a Trump-era drug rebate rule would add another $145 billion.
The plan also includes funding for elder care, Pell Grants and free school meals.
Paid family and medical leave: This was a priority for many Democrats, and a campaign promise by Biden. The White House tried to pare back the original plan to provide 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family and medical leave for every worker, offering four weeks instead, but it could not overcome the objections of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Free community college: A Biden plan for two years of tuition-free community college was scrapped relatively early on.
Lowering prescription drug costs: Some Democrats had pushed to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but the idea met with resistance from some in the party — and fierce pushback from the pharmaceutical industry and Republicans.
Expanded Medicare coverage for dental and vision: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and progressives had made hearing, dental and vision coverage a priority, but the White House plan leaves out the two most complicated and expensive portions of the plan.
Higher corporate and individual income tax rates and a billionaire tax: These ideas fell by the wayside after Democrats struggled to reach consensus.
- What Cowards the Democrats Have Become on Taxes – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- In the Biden Bill, the Billionaires Beat the Working Rich – Neil Irwin, New York Times
- The Build Back Better Framework: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly – Eric Levitz, New York
- Joe Manchin May Soon Do Us All a Little-Noticed Favor – Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, Washington Post
- The Pro–Trump Tax Cuts Caucus – David Dayen, American Prospect
- When the World Is on the Brink, $3.5 Trillion Is a Pittance – Abrahm Lustgarten, New York Times
- Get Real, Democrats, and Pass Biden’s Plan – Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
- Biden’s Build Back Better Proposal Gives Away the Democrats’ Game – Henry Olsen, Washington Post
- Leaving Paid Family Leave Out of Build Back Better Is a Tragedy – Molly Osberg, New Republic
- The President’s Plan Is Imperfect, but a Big Step Forward for the Country – Washington Post Editorial Board
- Tax the Rich! – Peter Singer, Project Syndicate