White House signals Biden, congressional Democrats closer to spending bill deal

·5 min read

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday signaled Democrats are closer to securing a deal on legislation that would enact the administration's social safety net agenda after President Joe Biden met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier in the day.

“We're getting closer, we’re into the nitty gritty details. There is agreement about some fundamental investments in our society,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing.

She said Biden would prefer to get a deal before he leaves for an overseas trip late next week, and that he will continue making calls over the weekend with members of Congress.

While Psaki said there's agreement on a number of areas, a top line number for how much the bill will cost still hasn't been reached along with a number of other details.

“The alternative is not a larger package. The alternative is nothing. So his objective is to continue to press forward to bring the parties together to get a historic package done,” Psaki said.

Congressional leaders also expressed optimism they were closer to a deal after meeting with Biden.

“We had a very positive meeting this morning, I’m very optimistic," Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding that a deal is within reach.

Schumer participated in the White House meeting by video, multiple sources told NBC News.

Asked about the size and specifics of the bill, Pelosi did not specify a top line figure but said, "It's exciting, because whatever it is, it's going to be bigger than anything we've ever done for the American people."

In anticipation of a potential deal, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., informed lawmakers Friday that Democratic leaders "aim" to hold votes next week on both the safety net legislation and the Senate-passed $550 billion infrastructure package. Hoyer said the goal is to get the two measures passed before their next recess, which is slated for Nov. 8. Democratic leaders also want to pass the bills before Biden leaves for his trip to Europe at the end of the month.

The White House meeting Friday followed Biden's town hall Thursday night in Baltimore, where he offered new details on how the spending package is coming together, touching on some items that appear to be set in stone and others that are still up in the air.

The president confirmed at the CNN event that he hasn't been able to get 12 weeks of paid family leave included in the bill because of opposition from a few moderates in his party. That provision will now be reduced to four weeks.

Another component, universal preschool, is expected to be included in the measure, as well as a one-year extension of the child tax credit. Biden said Thursday that he wouldn't support adding a work requirement for the tax credit because all eligible recipients are "working anyway."

Under the bill, parents would not have to pay more than 7 percent of their annual income on child care as a result of funding for child care centers, Biden said. The White House has said this would apply to low and middle-income families who have children under 5 years old.

On taxes, Biden acknowledged Thursday that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., doesn’t want to “raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and on wealthy people,” a cornerstone of the president’s “Build Back Better” plan. The president suggested there are still other ways to pay for the legislation without raising taxes on middle-class Americans.

“Here's what I'm willing to do: I'm willing to make sure that we pay for everything without anyone making less than $400,000 paying a single cent more in taxes. That's my objective. And so, there's ways to do that,” Biden said at the town hall.

Among the options still on the table to pay for the package are a 15 percent global minimum tax, closing loopholes for high income Americans and increased IRS enforcement.

Biden said that another key Democratic moderate, Sen. Joe Manchin of W.Va., opposes a provision that would offer tuition-free community college, dealing a blow to the president's effort to deliver on a campaign pledge. Instead of including that in the spending measure, Biden said he thinks Democrats will be able to increase individual Pell grants by $500 a year, to benefit low-income families with higher education funding that does not need to be paid back.

“It's not going to get us there. It's not going to get us the whole thing. But, it is a start,” Biden said.

Manchin and Sinema, the president added, also oppose elements of adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare, a proposal favored by progressives. Biden said he doesn’t have a deal on that provision, but said a potential compromise could consist of providing $800 vouchers each year from Medicare for dental work.

Biden insisted that his Clean Electricity Performance Program, a key part of the administration's plan to address climate change, hasn’t been dropped from the legislation yet. The proposal would pay electric utility companies that switch from fossil fuels to renewable or clean energy sources and fine those that don’t.

“Nothing has been formally agreed to,” Biden said on the status of including that program, which Manchin has signaled he opposes.

Ultimately, Biden said at the event that he believes Democrats are close to getting a deal on the framework of the package, which has created divisions between centrists and progressives.

Sources said Biden told progressives earlier this week that he was eyeing a price range of $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion for the final package, down from the $3.5 trillion initially proposed. Democrats have been aiming to reach an agreement on the bill by the end of this week.

Pelosi on Friday remained optimistic about the prospects for action, but without committing to a timeline.

"Much of what we need to do has been written, just a few decisions now," she told reporters.

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