Biden-Manchin meeting makes ‘progress’ in bid to break deadlock

President Joe Biden speaks at an event at the Electric City Trolley Museum on Oct. 20, 2021, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)
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Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The White House said President Joe Biden made progress on his big tax-and-spending plan in a meeting with key moderate Senator Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, though further talks among staffers will be needed.

The rare Sunday meeting, held over breakfast at the president’s home in Delaware, was the latest step in Biden’s push to secure a framework agreement among Democrats on a package ranging as high as $2 trillion. A White House statement gave no indication of specific areas of progress.

“They continued to make progress, will have their staffs work on follow-ups from the meeting, and agreed to stay in close touch with each other and the wide range of members who have worked hard on these negotiations,” according to the statement early Sunday evening.

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Democrats have voiced hope that an agreement in principle on the bill will allow the House to vote this week on a separate $550 billion physical infrastructure bill that has been held up by progressives wanting a deal on the larger bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a framework for the legislation is close, with the White House and leaders trying to hammer out final matters such as taxes and which components of a Medicare expansion to include.

“We have 90% of the bill agreed to and written, we just have some of the last decisions to be made,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Without congressional action, highway funding runs out Oct. 31, though Congress could pass another short-term extension as it did in September.

The White House and Manchin have differed on the terms of the top-line spending level for the bill, which creates and expands programs aimed at helping women, minorities, children and the elderly.

Manchin, who represents West Virginia, has talked about a $1.5 trillion spending level while Biden has recently advocated for something in the range of $2 trillion. The original House-passed framework totaled $3.5 trillion.

There’s also a question of whether the bill will include an expansion of Medicare for dental, vision and hearing benefits, as well as whether a plan for paid family leave will be scaled down or left out of the package.

The types of tax increases to be used to pay for the new spending are also in flux, with a billionaire tax gaining momentum and corporate tax rate increases fading.

Pelosi said the White House and Democratic congressional leaders still want to include four weeks of paid family leave, down from the 12 weeks initially sought.

“That’s our hope,” she said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”

She said they also they want to include an expansion of Medicare to provide vision, hearing and dental coverage for seniors.

But “dental is very expensive” and may take five or six years to implement, Pelosi said. That benefit is still under discussion, with Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders trying to find a way to keep the dental provision alive, she said.

On taxes, Pelosi indicated that hikes in the top individual and corporate tax rates are off the table, given opposition from moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. She said a “billionaire’s tax” on unrealized capital gains of the ultrawealthy is under discussion, although it will only raise about $200 billion to $250 billion.

Other methods of raising far more revenue, such as increased Internal Revenue Service enforcement and an “overseas harmonization” of taxes, also will be needed to offset the economic package.

“The billionaires tax has an appeal, but it doesn’t include that much money,” she said. Other ways to raise revenue, including a corporate minimum “book tax” that requires companies that use lots of credits and deductions to pay a base level to the IRS, also are being considered.

In Delaware, Biden’s meeting today with Manchin is pivotal. Sealing a deal with the West Virginia senator could allow Biden to pivot to Sinema as the final Senate Democratic holdout. Her office didn’t respond to questions about whether she has any planned talks set with Biden or Democratic congressional leaders.

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