Senate

Five ways Senate could change Biden’s spending plan

President Biden’s climate and social spending plan is facing an overhaul in the Senate, where Democrats are splitting with their House counterparts on key provisions.

Though House Democrats stress that they are in agreement on large parts of the bill, Senate Democrats aren’t being shy about outlining how they plan to change the bill once it comes up.

“There are going to be some changes,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” after the House passed the bill.

Any changes in the Senate will force the bill to go back to the House, where they’ll have to decide if they can live with the updated draft.

In addition to policy splits between House and Senate Democrats, details of the bill also need to pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian. And Republicans are able to force amendment votes during a chaotic floor debate where they could get changes into the bill if they are able to peel off one Democratic senator.

Here are five areas where the Senate is expected to make changes to the bill.

Medicare 

Progressives are hoping to broaden Medicare’s expansion once the spending bill comes to the Senate floor.

The House bill expands Medicare to cover hearing benefits. But that falls short of the broader expansion initially envisioned by the Biden administration, which wanted to expand Medicare to cover hearing, vision and dental.

Biden acknowledged that expanding Medicare to cover all three would be a “reach,” and Democrats initially discussed scaling down the dental coverage to a voucher program to offset costs before dropping the idea altogether.

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) indicated he would try to get vision and dental back into the bill, saying that “the American people overwhelmingly demand that we expand Medicare to cover dental, eyeglasses and hearing aids. That’s what we must do.”

Sanders could force an amendment vote on adding the broader expansion into the Senate bill, but he’s likely to face pushback within his own caucus from Democrats who have raised concerns about the price tag.

Democrats are also facing challenges to their plan to let Medicare negotiate prices for certain drugs. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced earlier this month they had reached a deal to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices in limited instances, prevent drug companies from raising prices faster than inflation and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare at $2,000 per year.

But Republicans are planning to challenge part of the deal with the Senate parliamentarian, an unelected referee who provides guidance on whether legislative text complies with the strict rules on what can be passed under budget reconciliation.

Paid leave

The House included roughly $200 billion for four weeks of paid family and medical leave starting in 2024 in the bill it passed earlier this month, which Democrats view as a necessary first step because the United States is one of the few developed countries to not prove paid leave.

But the program faces challenges in the Senate, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has pushed back over its inclusion, arguing Congress should work on a bipartisan bill separate from the Democratic spending package.

Even as Manchin has appeared unmoved, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that she and Manchin are still talking and that “Joe Manchin has come a long way on paid leave.”

Manchin has previously floated a paid leave program that could be funded through a payroll tax split between the employer and employee. But he’s also suggested that a program structured that way wouldn’t comply with Senate rules, though aides and Gillibrand have both pushed back.

SALT

House and Senate Democrats are also split over how to tackle making changes to the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap.

The climate and social spending bill passed by the House includes language to raise the cap from $10,000 to $80,000 through 2030. The cap would then revert back to $10,000 in 2031.

But Sanders and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are pitching a different strategy: keeping the $10,000 limit in place but exempting those who make under $400,000. Menendez, in a recent interview with NPR, argued that their proposal was “better” than the House version because it prevented millionaires and billionaires from getting a higher SALT deduction.

“Number one, it’s revenue-neutral, meaning it won’t cost a penny to the federal Treasury. It will allow full deductibility to middle-class working families,” Menendez said.

 

Immigration

The House legislation includes a provision that grants 6.5 million foreign nationals a temporary parole status that would give them five-year work and travel permits.

But that’s narrower than offering permanent residency, which would pave the way toward citizenship. Senate Democrats previously pitched the Senate parliamentarian on two plans that would provide permanent residency to millions of immigrants, but they were rejected for not complying with the rules for what can be included in legislation passed under reconciliation.

Still, House Democrats and some immigration groups are urging Senate Democrats to add the broader policy back into the legislation when it hits the Senate floor. Nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus signed on to a letter urging their counterparts to add a pathway to citizenship in the bill, arguing the “role of the Parliamentarian is an advisory one, and the Parliamentarian’s opinion is not binding.”

Senate Democrats don’t have the votes to formally overturn the parliamentarian, but advocates instead are urging them to put someone in the chair who would ignore the parliamentarian. Senate Democrats could also try to add the immigration language back into the bill as an amendment, but that would likely fall short.

The parliamentarian also hasn’t yet issued guidance on the parole language in the House bill, setting up the prospect that Democrats could still get another blow on the House-passed immigration provisions.

Climate

Senate Democrats have already jettisoned some climate proposals because they didn’t unite the entire conference, including a carbon tax and a key program meant to incentivize companies to transition to clean energy.

But the climate provisions of the bill could face further cuts as Democrats try to win over Manchin, who comes from a leading coal-producing state and has sway as the Senate Energy Committee chairman.

Democrats are hoping to get Manchin’s support for a methane emission fee after it cleared the House intact. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noted that they had received input from Manchin, who has voiced concerns about a methane fee, and others and hoped it “finds favor” once on the floor where Republicans could try to peel off Manchin to strip it from the bill or water it down.

A separate electric vehicle (EV) tax credit is also facing pushback from Manchin because it includes a larger tax credit for consumers who purchase union-made electric vehicles.

The EV tax credit has strong supporters in the Senate, including Michigan Sens. Gary Peters (D) and Debbie Stabenow, who is the No. 4 Senate Democrat.

Democrats are hoping to work out a compromise with Manchin, who announced his opposition while at a Toyota event in his home state earlier this month. 

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