WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke confidently Thursday night about reaching a deal soon with lawmakers to enact his massive social safety net agenda.
"I do think I'll get a deal," Biden told CNN's Anderson Cooper during a town hall in Baltimore.
Democrats hope to reach an agreement by the end of the week — though lawmakers have blown past previous deadlines and there was still doubt they would meet their self-imposed goal.
The final hang-ups involve members of the Senate. Two moderate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have been pushing against some of the measure's more progressive provisions, including arguing that the bill shouldn't be too large. And because of Sinema’s opposition to increasing the corporate tax rate, the White House appears to be making changes to the plan.
Biden praised Sinema, with whom he has had one-on-one meetings during negotiations, at the town hall and highlighted her position on paying for the legislative package.
“First of all, she's smart as the devil, Number One. Number Two, she's very supportive of the environmental agenda in my legislation," he said. "Where she's not supportive is, she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side, and on wealthy people, period. So, that's where it sort of breaks down.”
He added, “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.”
A White House official clarified the president's remarks regarding Sinema's position after the town hall.
"The President was referring to the challenge of having the votes to move forward on raising the corporate rate, not to the ability to raise revenue through a range of other tax fairness proposals which Senator Sinema supports," the official told NBC News in a statement.
After months of negotiations and intraparty fighting, Democratic lawmakers also appeared certain Thursday that a deal is near.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that they’re “almost to the stretch” and are “making great progress” in their talks over the multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better plan. The speaker said that while the measure will be smaller than the original $3.5 trillion proposal, it will still have a positive impact on middle-class Americans.
“It’s transformative,” she told reporters at her weekly press conference. “It’s historic, it’s life-changing and it will pass soon.”
Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Thursday that Democrats have had a “very productive week” and have “inched closer to finalizing an agreement.”
Asked how critical it is for Democrats to reach a framework by Friday, Pelosi said, “We’ve always been on track for doing that. The House has been on schedule. We have a goal. We have a timetable.”
Getting there has already forced Democrats to abandon some provisions — including saying this week that they are likely to ditch a proposal to provide free community college nationwide and that they will need to scale back the child tax credit.
Biden also confirmed reports that his parental leave proposal, which initially allotted 12 weeks paid time off, has also been curtailed during Thursday's town hall.
“It is down to four weeks," Biden said. "And, the reason it's down to four weeks? I can't get 12 weeks.”
Senior Biden officials also briefed top Democratic lawmakers on a potential shift in their tax plans during a call Wednesday, a source familiar told NBC News, which was first reported by The Washington Post. The new plan could exclude the corporate tax rate, the source said. Biden had initially called for increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
Negotiators are considering a range of other ideas including a tax on the assets of billionaires and a new minimum tax on corporations. Other measures already on the table include beefing up tax enforcement and an overhaul of international tax provisions. Nothing is off the table, the source stressed.
Pelosi was asked about the possibility of dropping Biden’s plan to increase the corporate tax rate and capital gains. She only said that Democrats are “narrowing” the scope of the bill and that that particular issue is being handled by the chairs of the House Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
The speaker, however, emphasized that the legislation would be “fully paid for,” which was also conveyed by the White House on Wednesday night.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that the bill would be paid for in full — meaning it would not add to the national debt — "by having the richest taxpayers and big corporations pay their fair share and without raising taxes on any American making less than $400,000.”
Sources said that Biden told progressives Tuesday night that he was eyeing a price range of $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion for the final package.