December 7, 2022

WASHINGTON — With the enactment of much of the Democrats’ domestic agenda on the horizon in a matter of days, progressives in Congress are rallying, reluctantly but decisively, around a climate, health and tax package that is a shadow of the ambitious cradle-to-grave social policy overhaul they once demanded.

By bowing to the realities of their party’s meager majority in the House and Senate, the Liberals seem ready to embrace a package that has been written, cut, and rewritten again to fit the centrists in their ranks – and then present them as the only option for equality. A small part of their aspirations while the Democrats still control the government.

“It’s a gun aimed at your head,” Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and chair of the Budget Committee, said in an interview Friday. He lamented that two Democratic holdouts – Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona – insisted on significant spending cuts and tax increases before they agreed to the package.

“Am I disappointed in that?” he said, refusing to commit to a vote for the final product. “On the other hand, what you have to weigh is that the future of the Earth is at stake.”

The measure, which faces a crucial test vote on Saturday and is on track to clear Congress by the end of next week due to unanimous Republican opposition, will fulfill some long-awaited Democratic priorities, delivering a midterm victory for the party and President Biden. Congressional elections. With nearly $400 billion in climate and energy proposals, Sanders has admitted it’s the single largest federal investment in trying to slow the planet’s heating — “nothing to sneeze at.”

It would also extend the extended benefits to the Affordable Care Act and make changes to the tax code to make it more equitable. The legislation would give the drug industry a significant rout by allowing Medicare, for the first time in its history, to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with drugmakers, potentially saving some older Americans thousands of dollars each year.

“The American people are on our side,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, declared at a news conference Friday. “The American people know we have pushed these priorities, and they overwhelmingly support what the Democrats are doing.”

But the measure contains none of the proposals to invest in public education and expand the nation’s safety net for parents by providing childcare, paid leave or a monthly payment to most families with children.

Seated in a conference room on Friday, Mr. Sanders – who has been pushed to spend up to $6 trillion – scrutinized some of these omissions, describing most pieces of the legislation as modest steps forward. He’s been on the Senate floor in recent days to describe his displeasure at what he sees as flaws in the bill and vow to force votes in the coming days to try to collect it.

There were also additions that angered the progressives. Mr. Manchin has won many perks for his coal-producing state and fossil fuel industry, including tax credits for carbon capture technology and a requirement that the federal government auction more public water and land for drilling. He also secured a separate pledge to complete a disputed pipeline in West Virginia.

Ms Senema has dropped a proposal aimed at narrowing the tax break enjoyed by wealthy businessmen, including private equity executives and hedge fund managers, which would allow them to pay a much lower tax rate on some income than other taxpayers.

Schumer noted Friday that while some lawmakers were disappointed that the proposal was scrapped, many liberal senators were glad it was replaced in the bill by a new tax on company share buybacks.

However, the progressives’ acceptance of the plan reflected a fundamental shift in their position. With the Democrats in control of Washington last year, the party’s liberals envisioned a transformative domestic policy plan that would spend up to $3.5 trillion, funded by tax increases for corporations and wealthier Americans, to provide child care and parental leave on the beach. Caring for the elderly and the disabled, and expanding public education.

They flexed their muscles at crucial moments, at one point refusing to support the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that had been a major part of Mr. Biden’s agenda so they could make sure social policy and the climate plan would work. But with Republicans staunchly opposed, Democratic leaders had little room for maneuver in the 50-50 Senate, giving Mr. Manchin and Ms. Senema an effective veto of the package.

Mr. Manchin, an advocate of coal and oil, said he fears inflation will be exacerbated by excessive spending. Ms. Senema has embraced investments in fighting climate change but has held off plans to reform the tax code and raise tax rates for corporations and the wealthy. Negotiations went on for months, and only weeks ago seemed to be imploding, leaving climate and tax measures stalled. But within a week, Mr. Manchin and Mrs. Cinema came after fundamental changes to win them over.

The Liberals said the resulting package was less than they wanted but a clear indication of their influence on Capitol Hill and in the White House, where they said their strong advocacy for a more ambitious bill helped prevent the plan from shrinking further.

“You have to acknowledge that this is a huge step forward and this is a huge progressive win,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chair of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, said in an interview. “It does not mean that everything is a progressive win.”

The procedure can still change. Senators on Friday announced plans to include $4 billion to combat drought in drought-stricken western states, while Senate bases officials were reviewing whether the bill adhered to vague requirements of the budget reconciliation process. These rules, which protect the measure from Republican disruption, could force reviews in the coming days.

While liberals have set their ambitions high, particularly after they succeeded in enforcing the $1.9 trillion pandemic aid bill in March 2021 without a Republican vote, some Democrats said rising inflation in recent months has dampened enthusiasm for more federal spending dramatically.

“Looking back, the $3.5 trillion package was very aggressive — I know others wouldn’t agree,” Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said in an interview. “But when you have a 50-50 Senate, the idea that we could fix everything in one bill, again, was probably too aggressive.”

Mr. Warner, who helped negotiate the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that allowed Democrats to begin work on the package and worked closely with Mr. Manchin and Ms. Cinema to allay their concerns, acknowledged the legislation was a disappointment. “This has been, you know, a long and winding road, but I think there’s a really great product out there,” he added.

Liberals have focused particularly on investing in climate change, crediting young activists and voters for pushing their party into action.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — the Finance Committee has done nothing of the sort,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the committee.

Democratic leaders said they believe they have enough support from Democrats in both houses to pass the measure through Congress over the next week. In a sign of that confidence, House Democratic leaders have asked lawmakers to prepare to return to Washington on August 12 for final approval of the measure.

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