House Democrats added a new paid family leave program, immigrant work permits and a state and local tax break to President Biden’s $1.75-trillion social services and environmental bill Wednesday, reviving key priorities in the rush to finish up and start voting after the party’s dismal overnight election results.
The House Rules Committee convened late Wednesday afternoon to consider the updated text of the 2,135-page package — a crucial step ahead of initial House votes that are possible as soon as Thursday.
The flurry of last-minute additions — on top of a plan to include lower Medicare prescription drug prices — comes as Democrats are desperate to deliver on Biden’s signature domestic proposals after grim election results for the party in Virginia, a warning that their grip on power could be in peril in next year’s midterm election.
Most voters surveyed in Virginia said drawn-out negotiations in Washington over Biden’s governing agenda were an important factor in how they voted Tuesday, so blame was flowing to Capitol Hill, where Democrats have spent months arguing over details of the package.
“We’ve got to produce,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters at the Capitol. “We’ve got to get results for people.”
“I do know that people want us to get things done,” Biden said from the White House.
“I’m continuing to push very hard for the Democratic Party to move along and pass my infrastructure bill and my ‘Build Back Better’ bill,” he said.
Democrats have been working fervently to shelve their differences, particularly with holdout centrist Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, in order to vote on the social services and climate bill and on a related $1-trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
The family leave provision Manchin had resisted earlier is expected to include four weeks of paid time off for childbirth, recovery from major illness or caring for family members — far less than the 12-week program once envisioned, but all fully paid for with revenue elsewhere in the bill.
Biden had reluctantly dropped a scaled-back paid leave proposal from last week’s White House framework after Manchin balked at the cost. But other Democrats noted that paid leave had been a party priority for decades, and continued to push for it.
Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the paid leave program came together after talks early Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). It’s “a policy that will finally give workers and their families the peace of mind of knowing that when disaster strikes, they can rely on paid leave to avoid total crisis,” he said in a statement.
Democrats also compromised on a plan to partly do away with the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions that particularly hits New Yorkers, Californians and others in high-tax states, enacted as part of Republicans’ 2017 tax plan under the Trump administration.
While repeal of the so-called SALT deduction cap is a priority for several Northeastern state lawmakers, progressives wanted to prevent the super-wealthy from benefiting. Under the plan, the $10,000 deduction cap would be lifted to $72,500 for 10 years, starting with the 2021 tax year.
And the just-added immigration provision would create a new program for some 7 million people who are in the country without legal standing, allowing them to apply for permits to work and travel in the U.S. for five years. The government would also be able to tap unused visas to admit people into the country.
Reaching a resolution on immigration was among the last daunting challenges to finishing up the draft of Biden’s package. Biden had set aside $100 billion to pay for the immigration changes, which could increase the cost of the overall package from $1.75 trillion to $1.85 trillion if the Senate accepts the provision. Lawmakers plan to make their case to the Senate parliamentarian in coming days, hopeful the changes will pass muster under Senate rules because they build on existing programs, those involved said.
“We have to have something for our immigrants,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park).
The paid family leave and immigration changes have drawn resistance from Manchin, whose support remains crucial in the Senate, where Biden needs the votes of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus. The overall bill faces united opposition from the chamber’s 50 Republicans. Vice President Kamala Harris votes with Democrats in the event of a tie.
“I don’t know what Sen. Manchin is thinking, but we are going to pass both bills through the House and we are going to deliver transformative change to the people,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), leader of the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Manchin wants Democrats to take more time in negotiations, and panned the announcement on paid leave, suggesting it could be done separately from Biden’s package or “in a bipartisan way.”
“We must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues Wednesday, acknowledging there was opposition to the House’s approach from a single senator, a reference to Manchin. But the speaker’s strategy now seems to be to pass the most robust bill possible in her chamber, leaving it to the Senate to adjust or strip out the portions they won’t agree to.
The $1.75-trillion package would provide large numbers of Americans with assistance to pay for healthcare, education, raising children and caring for elderly people in their homes. It also would provide some $555 billion in tax breaks to encourage cleaner energy and electrified vehicles, the nation’s largest commitment to tackling climate change.
Much of the measure’s costs would be covered with higher taxes on people with incomes of over $10 million a year and on large corporations, which would now face a 15% minimum tax — an effort to stop big businesses from claiming so many deductions they end up paying no taxes.
Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) said the party’s internal disputes had been harmful not only for public opinion, but also for “showing that our democracy is working.” He said Wednesday, “We have to show that we can govern.”
Despite the disputes, the final details of Biden’s big proposal are coming into shape.
Along with Wednesday’s additions of the paid family leave, immigration and local tax deduction provisions, Democrats reached a deal Tuesday to lower prescription drug costs for most older people, capping out-of-pocket Medicare Part D costs at $2,000 and reducing the price of insulin.
For the first time, Medicare would be able to negotiate prescription drug prices in its Part B and Part D programs. The new monthly cap on the price of insulin would lower the cost to no more than $35 a dose, down from as much as $600 now, and there would be a so-called inflation rebate if annual prices rise too high, Democrats said.
“It’s not everything we all want. Many of us would have wanted to go much further, but it’s a big step in helping the American people deal with the price of drugs,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday after a compromise was struck with Sinema.
Some moderate Democrats in the House said they wanted to see a fiscal assessment of Biden’s overall package from the Congressional Budget Office before taking the vote.