Democrats seek tweaks to $1.75T framework

Democrats are working to see how bendable the White House's framework for the social-spending package is.

Lawmakers are hoping to make adjustments to the framework released Thursday in areas that include health care, climate and paid family leave.

But it could be a challenge given the positions of moderate Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Dems press drillers over methane leaks Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Joe Manchin should embrace paid leave — now MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Green groups spend big to promote climate policy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (D-Ariz.), as well as a desire from the Biden administration to promptly enact both the Democratic-only spending package and a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill.

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“No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is,” Biden said Thursday in a speech at the White House about the framework. 

The framework released Thursday still includes items such as universal pre-school and clean energy incentives. But it scales back and eliminates some of Biden and Democratic lawmakers’ spending and tax priorities, reducing the size of the package to $1.75 trillion, plus an additional $100 billion for immigration reforms that meet Senate budget rules. 

The changes are designed to address the concerns of Manchin and Sinema, who opposed the $3.5 trillion top-line number that Democrats had previously been eyeing. No Republicans are expected to vote for the package, meaning that every Senate Democrat and nearly every House Democrat will need to back it for it to pass.

The framework comes at a time when Biden’s approval rating is underwater, and Democrats are trying to show that they can govern. Democrats are seeking to act quickly on the spending package.

A source familiar with the administration’s thinking poured cold water on the idea of significantly altering the framework given the urgency of moving the social-spending bill and the infrastructure bill. The administration is getting to a point where it feels that there is a choice between the framework and nothing, the source said.

At the same time, the White House will still push for Biden’s agenda items that were left out of the framework during the rest of the president’s time in office, the source said.

Democratic lawmakers have broadly been positive about the framework and are eyeing votes on the social-spending package and the infrastructure bill as soon as next week. Still, lawmakers are trying to see if they can manage to fit some of their agenda items into the downsized package. 

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“We have endorsed the framework, I just want to be clear about that. We have also said that we would welcome anything that is additive that people are able to negotiate that will get 50 votes in the Senate,” said Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDemocratic caucus chairs call for Boebert committee assignment removal Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The House Rules Committee on Thursday released legislative text that’s in line with the framework, but committee chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) noted that the text isn’t final.

“Most of it is a real bill, [but] there's gotta be some tweaks,” he said Thursday evening. 

Health care

One key addition that many Democrats are still pushing for is including provisions to lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

Drug pricing was left out of the framework released by the White House, with an administration official saying they simply did not have the votes. But leaving the policy out would be a major blow to Democrats who have spent years campaigning on lowering drug costs.

There are now discussions about a scaled-back, compromise version that could win support from the handful of Democrats who have raised concerns about broader versions, worrying they will harm innovation from drug companies developing new treatments. 

The potential compromise would be significantly less ambitious than earlier versions. For example, it would only allow Medicare to negotiate prices for a smaller group of older drugs that no longer have “exclusivity,” meaning they are no longer protected from competition. But Sinema remains a question mark on the potential compromise. 

The plan also left out establishing Medicare dental and vision benefits, though it does include creating a hearing benefit. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan Sanders urges Biden to delay Medicare premium hike linked to Alzheimer's drug MORE (I-Vt.) said Thursday that he still planned to push for dental and vision benefits. But adding those items could be a challenge due to their cost.

Paid family leave

Many progressives and advocacy groups are also upset about the omission of paid family leave from the framework, and are pushing to get some type of program back into the spending package.

Other Senate Democrats have been trying to persuade Manchin to back off his opposition to including a paid leave program, though their efforts may not ultimately be successful.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE's (D-N.Y.) office said in a statement that the senator “continues her nearly decade-long work to pass a national paid leave plan, whether it’s in this bill or the next, but will work to try and add it back into the Build Back Better plan until the ink is dry.”

 Climate

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The White House framework left out several climate provisions, including a fee on methane from oil and gas production, that Democrats are still hoping will ultimately make it into legislation.

The framework includes $555 billion in spending and tax cuts focused on combating climate change. The climate provisions include clean energy tax credits, a 300,000-member conservation jobs program called a Civilian Climate Corps and investments in clean energy and sustainability projects through an accelerator.

However, it didn’t mention a methane fee, which Democrats viewed as a key way to cut climate pollution. A source familiar with the negotiations told The Hill on Thursday that it was still being negotiated and could potentially end up in the final bill.

The legislative text released by the House Rules Committee includes the methane fee and several other climate provisions that weren’t discussed in the framework, including a repeal of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and permanently banning new offshore oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic, Pacific and Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

While the text is designed to be consistent with the White House framework, it’s unclear whether the legislation’s approach on a methane fee has support from key swing votes.

Taxes

Key Democratic lawmakers say they expect changes to the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction will be included in the final version of the social-spending package, even though the topic was not included in the White House framework. The issue was also not included in previous versions of the administration’s proposal.

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Repealing the $10,000 cap, which was created by Republicans’ 2017 tax law, is a top priority of many lawmakers from high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey. But changes to the cap are expensive, and full repeal of the limit would largely benefit high-income households.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealGOP fears boomerang as threat of government shutdown grows House passes giant social policy and climate measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay MORE (D-Mass.) said Thursday that he expects the SALT deduction cap to be addressed in the final bill.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDemocrats fear Virginia is precursor to House drubbing Infrastructure bill could upset debt limit timeline Democrats seek tweaks to .75T framework MORE (D-N.J.) said in a statement Thursday that he looks forward “to finalizing the specifics on providing relief from the SALT deduction cap cruelly imposed by the Republicans in 2017.”

Mike Lillis, Peter Sullivan and Rachel Frazin contributed.