Pelosi steers party toward Biden agenda with ‘fewer things’

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
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Laura Davison and Billy House Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Fractious Democrats are grappling with how to fit their priorities into a shrunken tax and spending bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is signaling that President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar economic agenda will be scaled back by focusing on fewer, well-executed programs.

“We have some important decisions to make in the next few days so that we can proceed,” Pelosi said Tuesday at a news conference. “If there are fewer dollars to be spent, there are choices to be made.” Democrats must slim down a bill worth at least $3.5 trillion crafted by House committees last month to roughly $2 trillion — a figure Biden has floated as a potential compromise between progressives pushing for more spending and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate who says he supports a bill closer to $1.5 trillion.

Pelosi said she is “very disappointed” the level of spending will be less than $3.5 trillion.


“We’re still talking about a couple of trillion dollars, but it’s much less,” she said.

In a letter to fellow House Democrats late Monday night, Pelosi said the emerging consensus “is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis.”

Pelosi, at her news conference, declined to say what proposals might be dropped but said that the first stab at shrinking the package would be shortening the length of time some proposals would be in effect.

“We have to have something that will pass the House and pass the Senate,” she said.

The party’s far-left flank wants to enact the full range of programs proposed by Biden but for only a few years, while moderates have been seeking to narrow the universe of policy programs in the tax and spending bill.

Focusing on a more limited set of programs could mean that some of the more ambitious elements get cut. Progressives, however, argue that they ran for office on free community college tuition, subsidized childcare and a whole range of climate protection programs, and that they must keep their promises.

Programs that take more effort or time to implement, such as expanding dental and vision benefits to Medicare patients, could get cut to make room for those that can be put into practice easily, including making some Affordable Care Act benefits permanent and continuing monthly child tax credit payments, both of which already have systems in place.

A smaller bill would be easier to fully pay for and wouldn’t require Democrats to enact every tax proposal on the wealthy and corporations that Biden has floated. However, it also would mean significantly fewer benefits and tax credits could make it into the bill. Some politically popular benefits, including tax credits for electric vehicles or an expansion to the state and local tax deduction, could fall away because they would help wealthier taxpayers.

“I’m optimistic that we will get to where we need to be in a timely fashion,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi has already reset the focus for the end of the month, giving House Democrats an Oct. 31 target to approve the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill containing $550 billion in new spending. The date coincides with the expiration of what is now already a funding extension for federal highway programs.


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