Congressional Democrats signaled Wednesday they would ditch plans for paid family and medical leave in an effort to secure an elusive deal to push through a massive spending bill.
It marked the latest attempt to bridge the divide between liberals and moderates but would come at the cost of one of President Biden’s key campaign pledges.
During another day of frenetic activity, the two moderate holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, met with Biden aides on Capitol Hill before saying they were confident of ‘progress.’
Later three sources familiar with ongoing discussions told Politico that Senate Democrats were dropping paid family and medical leave from the reconciliation bill.
Biden aides are pressing Democrats to come together around a set of plans with a $1.75 trillion price tag before the end of the week, a move that would also unlock the president’s stalled $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Discussions on Wednesday centered both on how to trim the cost of the bill and how to generate funding.
Biden is due to fly to Rome, Italy, on Thursday to attend a G20 summit followed by a climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but is keen to be able to tout progress on his domestic agenda before a tight gubernatorial election in Virginia on Tuesday.
Last week he admitted that family leave was being trimmed down.
‘It is down to four weeks,’ he said during a CNN town hall.
‘And the reason it’s down to four weeks is I can’t get 12 weeks.’
Democrats are closing in on a deal to push through some $1.75 trillion in social spending but it will come at the cost of paid family and medical leave, key parts of the Biden agenda
The U.S. is one of the few industrialized countries that does not have a universal paid leave program.
And Biden made changing that a central part of his election campaign last year before ensuring it was a key part of his social agenda.
High profile supporters include Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who last week wrote to Democratic Party leaders urging them not to let the measure slip.
‘This is about putting families above politics,’ she wrote.
‘And for a refreshing change, it’s something we all seem to agree on. At a point when everything feels so divisive, let this be a shared goal that unites us.’
Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered an optimistic picture and said the administration was monitoring progress ‘hour by hour.’
She said the president could yet visit Capitol Hill before flying overseas.
‘We are on track now to move forward once we get an agreement,’ she said.
But there were other setbacks along the way, with reports that a newly proposed tax on billionaires had been scrapped after Manchin objected.
During her briefing Psaki said Biden supported the Senate Democratic plan to tax billionaires but stopped short of saying whether the major revenue-raiser would even be in a final reconciliation bill.
Soon after House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Richard Neal said negotiators had dropped the idea.
But then Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden chimed in with his own view: ‘Last time I looked, the United States Senate has a say, too. We’re continuing to work with members,’ he said, Business Insider reported.
She also vouched for the legality of the proposal for the government to get at the vast fortunes amassed by about 700 people – whose wealth resides in huge stock holdings they have sometimes held for decades.
President Joe Biden supports a Senate Democratic plan to tax billionaires, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday – although it was unclear if it is part of a Build Back Better package being negotiated
‘We’re not going to support anything we don’t think is legal. But I will tell you the president supports the billionaire’s tax. He looks forward to working with Congress and Wyden to make sure the highest income Americans pay their fair share,’ she said.
Psaki talked up the proposal after a group senators announced agreement on it – with even cryptic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) announcing her approval.
Negotiators desperate for revenue to assemble Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan turned to the billionaire’s tax after Sinema weighed in against other more traditional tax hikes: raising the top corporate rate, raising the top income tax rate, and other measures.
‘The president remains open to going up to the Hill. We haven’t made a decision to do that and we are making decisions hour-by-hour on what would be most constructive to move things forward,’ she said.
Biden met with Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin in the Oval Office Tuesday, Psaki said.
Negotiators need to find revenue sources after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) reportedly came out against corporate and individual rate hikes
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., left, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., board an elevator as they leave a meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington
President Joe Biden heads to Rome Thursday
She said negotiators ‘continue to make progress on finalizing details’ – with top administration aides in the Capitol Wednesday.
Her comments came as Sen. Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York said a deal was ‘within arm’s length’ – but Manchin spoke critically of the billionaire’s tax and instead called for a ‘patriotic’ tax of 15 per cent.
Psaki did not say for certain which revenue raisers would be in the bill. The billionaire’s tax, meant to get at assets held by billionaire investors who don’t take much ordinary income or sell many shares that get taxed, could bring in about $250 billion over a decade.
It has backing from Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee chair.
She said the package would be a ‘historic investment’ – although negotiators are reportedly looking at $1.5 to $1.75 trillion, down from a $3.5 trillion proposal in the budget resolution.
Psaki characterized negotiations as being about ‘nitty gritty details.’
‘But it’s only 1:30, we’ve got some time,’ she said Wednesday afternoon. The idea has been criticized by billionaire Elon Musk.
‘I anticipate that any new unrealized capital gains taxes will slowly make their way down to middle class retirement investments over the next several years. It will start with billionaires, then eventually millionaires, then the modest investments will get hit possibly within a decade,’ he wrote Monday.
Biden is set to fly to Rome on Thursday morning.