Medicare and paid leave are big sticking points as Democrats rush to finish Biden’s spending plans

WASHINGTON – With just one day left before President Joe Biden departs for a week of summits in Europe, Democrats in Congress were still deep in negotiations Wednesday over several key pieces of the president’s social safety net and climate bill.

But there were some visible signs of progress. One issue gaining clarity was taxes.

On Tuesday, three Democratic senators introduced a plan to impose a 15% minimum tax on corporate book income, which would apply only to companies that reported over $1 billion in income for three straight years.

The plan quickly garnered approval from two key centrist Democrats in the Senate: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Yet even as Democrats coalesced around the 15% minimum corporate tax, two other proposed tax changes appeared to be headed for the chopping block.

(L-R) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) speak to reporters about a corporate minimum tax plan at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

A plan to have banks report cash flow information to the IRS for accounts with more than $10,000 in non-wage deposits was no longer under serious consideration midday Wednesday, CNBC’s Kayla Tausche reported, citing three sources familiar with the matter.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee said the bank reporting plan was being “reworked” to apply only to people who make more than $400,000 a year.

The invisible line between individuals making under $400,000 a year and those making over that is an important one to Biden. The president has repeatedly pledged that nothing in this bill would raise taxes on people “making less than $400,000 a year.”

Another late-breaking proposal to tax the unrealized market gains of the very richest Americans – people reporting more than $100 million of income or holding more than $1 billion in assets – also appeared to be on shaky ground Wednesday.

Manchin told reporters he thought the plan was “convoluted,” yet he added that people who have grown extremely wealthy in the United States should pay an additional “patriotic tax.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “supports the billionaire tax” on Wednesday.

Potential sources of revenue to pay for the bill received new attention this week after Sinema announced in mid-October that she would not support a long-standing plan to generate revenues by raising the corporate income tax rate and the top individual tax bracket rate.

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Democrats need all 50 senators in their caucus to pass any bill, so Sinema’s announcement left the party scrambling.

Another sign of progress Wednesday occurred in the House, where a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is languishing until a key bloc of progressive Democrats agree to vote for it.

The progressives have so far said they will not back the infrastructure bill until the Senate writes and ostensibly passes the other half of Biden’s domestic agenda, the social spending bill. To become law, that bill will rely on a complex legislative process known as budget reconciliation.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the first step in this reconciliation process, a hearing in the House Rules Committee on Thursday to establish the specific steps and timeline for considering the reconciliation measure.

At the time Pelosi wrote this, however, there did not yet exist an actual social spending bill for the House to consider. While many of the agreed-upon pieces of the legislation had already been drafted in standalone form, the thorniest issues were still being negotiated, and cannot be drafted until they are resolved.

Much as they had done for weeks, these disagreements largely centered around whether and how to preserve certain benefits contained in Biden’s original social spending proposal.

Manchin opposes several of the proposed benefit expansions, and both he and Sinema continued to exert outsized influence Wednesday over the talks.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., board an elevator after a private meeting between the two of them on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Jabin Botsford | The Washington Post | Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, the two senators went to the White House for a private meeting with Biden in the Oval Office.

Senior White House negotiators traveled to Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to meet again with Manchin and Sinema, this time in the Capitol.

Following that meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, Sinema told reporters the talks were “doing great, making progress.”

Manchin says his opposition to expanding Medicaid and Medicare is rooted in his concern about the two programs’ long-term financial viability.

Medicaid provides health insurance to more than 75 million low-income and vulnerable Americans, while Medicare subsidizes health care for more than 60 million individuals over 65 years old.

Yet Manchin faces powerful opposition in his bid to get Medicare expansion removed from the spending bill: Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, who has championed the plan to expand Medicare coverage to include vision, hearing and dental care for recipients.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sanders had his own meeting with Biden at the White House, a clear sign of the progressive Vermont senator’s crucial role in the negotiations.

Manchin also opposes a popular plan to create a system to administer and fund a federal paid family and medical leave system for all workers.

Paid family and sick leave was a central part of the promise that Biden made during his 2020 presidential campaign to ease the financial burden on working families.

But Manchin sees it as an additional, unnecessary government benefit in the bill, one which raises the overall cost of the legislation.

Early Wednesday afternoon, NBC News reported on a potential compromise to the original paid family and sick leave plan, which lawmakers were discussing.

Under the compromise plan, the new federal paid leave benefit would cover only paid family leave for new parents, but not pay for sick leave.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.

— CNBC’s Kayla Tausche contributed reporting.

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