Administration

White House looks to salvage Biden’s domestic agenda

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AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Biden speaks at Max S. Hayes Hight School in Cleveland on July 6, 2022.

The White House is hoping to salvage what it can of President Biden’s agenda after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) all but struck a fatal blow to talks on climate and tax provisions.

Rather than publicly sparring with Manchin or going back to the drawing board for a reworked deal, the White House is hoping to take any wins it can get in the short time between summer and the midterms, when Republicans appear to have a good chance at retaking both chambers of Congress.

White House officials and their allies believe passing a slimmed down reconciliation bill that addresses prescription drug pricing and health care subsidies — when combined with the bipartisan infrastructure law, the American Rescue Plan and the recently passed bipartisan gun safety bill — would still make for a strong record given the narrow majorities Democrats have in each chamber of Congress.

“Don’t sleep on the health care pieces that will get done. If they get over the finish line, they will be significant wins,” said Eric Schultz, a former spokesperson in the Obama White House. “If you add that to the rest of the victories from the past two years, we’ll have an impressive story to tell.”

Biden, in a statement last Friday, urged Congress to pass a bill before the August recess that would “give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices and to prevent an increase in health insurance premiums for millions of families.”

Jared Bernstein, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Monday that a bill addressing prescription drug pricing and health care premiums “would be an absolutely huge win for reconciliation.”

“Whatever paths are open to us, we will take,” Bernstein said. “When those paths are closed, we’re going to find other paths. That’s how important this agenda is.”

Biden came into office with ambitious plans for an expansive spending package that would invest in housing, clean energy, health care, child care and other areas while paying for the package largely by reforming the tax code and increasing taxes on the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

A framework proposed in October by the White House included $500 billion in climate provisions, with $320 billion for clean energy tax credits to apply to transmission, storage, manufacturing, residential homes, passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles.

The framework also called for a 15 percent minimum tax for corporations, a 1 percent surcharge on stock buybacks and international tax changes that are in line with an agreement reached by more than 100 countries earlier this month. It would also include a surtax on the incomes of multimillionaires and billionaires and investment in IRS enforcement.

But the cost of gas, food, shelter and various goods has been on the rise since Biden released that framework nine months ago. Then there’s Manchin, who can single-handedly upend Democratic plans to pass legislation in a 50-50 Senate, repeatedly citing inflation concerns as a reason not to pass additional spending.

Manchin again dealt a blow to the Biden agenda last week when he said the latest inflation data meant it was “not prudent” to make the investments in climate change or raise taxes on the wealthy at this time.

While Manchin’s comments sparked fury among some Democrats and activists, the White House has publicly maintained an even-keeled position, instead focusing on what Manchin has said he would accept.

“What we’re on the cusp of doing with the reconciliation bill is going to impact tens of millions of Americans’ lives. And that matters as we’re looking at health care,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Biden is expected to take executive action to address some climate change provisions left on the cutting room floor, though the extent and effectiveness is unlikely to be as impactful as congressional action.

House Democratic leaders, asked Tuesday about some of the failures surrounding Biden’s agenda, acknowledged their frustration that more hasn’t been done, particularly since they’ve been successful in passing much of the president’s ambitious agenda through the lower chamber while it languishes in the Senate.

“We should be frustrated at times if what we want to enact is more than what gets enacted,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

But party leaders were also quick to note that, in a divided country with a closely split Senate, it was unrealistic to think Democrats were ever going to get everything they wanted. Instead, they say they’re simply fighting for as much of the agenda as they can, with designs to return later to any unfinished business.

“We’re trying to do the most good for the most amount of people possible. But if that isn’t ultimately what becomes law, but it passes the ‘meaningfulness standard’ — it helps us save lives, help our communities, drive down prescription drug costs, drive down the cost of the Affordable Care Act — those are things that all of us are going to hold hands and support,” Aguilar said.

Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Biden Eric Schultz Jared Bernstein Joe Manchin Pete Aguilar
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