Biden tells Democrats to quickly pass simplified economic package

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden appeared to bow Friday to Sen. Joe Manchin’s request for a lightened economic package, telling Democrats to push the election-year measure through Congress quickly so families can “sleep easier.” and take advantage of the health care savings it offers.

Biden’s statement came hours after Manchin, the West Virginian who is one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, said if party leaders wanted to pass a measure before next month’s recess, it should be limited to provisions limiting prescription drug prices, extending subsidies for people purchasing health insurance and reducing the federal deficit.

Even so, Biden’s directive would mean postponing congressional action to mitigate climate change and raise taxes on high earners and big businesses, things he and Democrats have long wanted in the economic package. It would represent a shocking setback for goals that are among the party’s deepest aspirations and delay a risky showdown on the plan until the dawn of the November election.

The president’s remarks underscored a growing sense among Democrats that after months of negotiations with Manchin that have only further diminished the president’s top national priority, it was time to declare victory. Reducing drug costs, helping consumers buy health coverage and reducing federal red ink are Democratic priorities and passing them would show voters achievements that Republicans are on track to strongly oppose.

“Families across the country will sleep easier if Congress takes this action. The Senate should go ahead and pass it before the August recess and deliver it to my desk so I can sign it,” said Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

He thanked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., who spent months negotiating with Manchin, for “his hard and determined efforts to produce the strongest bill possible” and “even by offering significant compromises in an attempt to reach an agreement”.

It looked like a tacit dig at Manchin, which Biden’s statement didn’t mention and which in December leaked a much larger, $2 trillion, 10-year version of the package.

While its ultimate scope is unclear, a streamlined measure tailored to Manchin’s latest demands could generate about $288 billion in savings over 10 years by letting Medicare negotiate the prices of the pharmaceuticals it purchases, demanding rebates from drugmakers if price increases outpace inflation and other cost reductions. Early estimates say he would spend only a fraction of that on health insurance subsidies that expire in January, with the rest going to deficit reduction.

As a sign of movement, Democrats planned to start cross-checking the wording of prescription drugs next week with the Senate congressman, a Democratic aide said, to ensure that no provision violates House rules and must be abandoned. The aide was not authorized to discuss the plans publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Manchin, whose vote is needed for Democrats to win the Senate 50-50, also said Friday that if party leaders want to pursue a broader measure to tackle global warming and raise taxes on the rich and companies, they should wait until later this summer. He argued that would buy time to see what happens to inflation and interest rates this month.

“Let’s wait for this to come out to know that we’re on a path that won’t be incendiary to add more to inflation,” Manchin said on “Talkline,” a West Virginia radio show hosted by Hoppy Kercheval.

After months of citing inflation fears among his reasons for seeking to cut Biden’s overall package, Manchin raised heightened concerns this week after the government said annual inflation hit 9.1% in June. , the largest increase in 41 years. Polls show inflation is voters’ top concern ahead of the November election in which Republicans could well take control of the House and Senate.

In his statement, Biden said action on climate and clean energy “remains more urgent than ever,” but acknowledged his willingness to accept delays in congressional action.

“If the Senate does not act to address the climate crisis and strengthen our national clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to respond at this time,” he said.

Biden’s options for executive action or Environmental Protection Agency regulation could include denying permits for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters, tightening permitted pollution from power plants in the coal and the restriction of gas pipelines.

Biden’s comments marked the latest retreat he and Democratic congressional leaders have made since they initially pushed for broader goals early last year that would have cost $3.5 trillion or more.

These priorities would also have provided free pre-kindergarten, low-cost child care, paid family leave and more. They ultimately fell victim to narrow Democrat majorities in Congress and shifts in the political and economic climate that have seen voter concerns about inflation and the economy intensify.

Any plan that emerges faces some unanimous opposition from Republicans, who argue that its spending and tax increases would further worsen inflation.

Manchin had told Schumer on Thursday that he could not support a bill now that would include other party goals like tackling climate change and raising taxes on the wealthy and big business, according to a Democrat. informed of these talks.

The two lawmakers negotiated a package that was expected to reach about $1 trillion over 10 years, about half of which was used to reduce federal deficits.

Manchin said he considers his talks with Schumer “continuing.” Yet his latest stance prompted a mixture of anger and pragmatism from fellow Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters she wasn’t sure what was left in her party’s proposal, but added, “I would be very, of course, disappointed if the whole planet saving thing was off the bill.” A spokesperson for Schumer did not return requests for comment.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she was skeptical of Manchin’s acceptance of a healthcare-focused package. “Look, the guy changed his mind” before, Jayapal told reporters. “So let’s see. I have no confidence.

“If there was a guarantee that we could get the biggest contract in September, I’m open to that,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who chairs the Tax Drafting Ways and Means Committee. . “But to go to the altar, at some point, we have to say, ‘Yes’.”

Delaying action until after the August recess would leave Democrats facing a dangerous countdown. The special budget powers expire Oct. 1, which would allow them to ram the legislation through the Senate 50-50 over strong GOP opposition, with Vice President Kamala Harris’s deciding vote.

This would present a risk that any Democratic absence due to COVID-19 or other reasons would deprive them of the votes they need. It would also push congressional action until just weeks before the November election, when any vote can be quickly turned into damaging campaign attack advertising.

Manchin said he was concerned that higher corporate taxes could lead to layoffs and that some of his party’s environmental proposals would hamper “what this country needs to keep the economic engine running.”

Other Democrats say the broader measure initiatives would more than pay for themselves by having high earners and big business pay the costs. And they noted that reducing the deficit helps control inflation by reducing the government’s need for borrowing, which would otherwise help drive up interest rates.

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AP reporters Farnoush Amiri, Matthew Daly and Will Weissert contributed to this report.

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