Biden Heads to Capitol to Push Agenda, Unite Democrats

President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall at the Baltimore Center Stage Pearlstone Theater, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Baltimore. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press))

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden headed to Capitol Hill early Oct. 28 to make the case to House Democrats for a dramatically scaled-back domestic policy package, $1.75 trillion of social services and climate change programs the White House believes can pass the 50-50 Senate.

Biden is eager to have a deal in hand before he departs later in the day for global summits, but the revised new package is losing some of Democrats’ top priorities as the president’s campaign ambitions make way for the political realities of the narrowly divided Congress.

A paid family leave and efforts to lower prescription drug pricing are now gone entirely from the package, according to senior administration officials who requested anonymity to brief reporters about the emerging details.

Still in the mix: free prekindergarten for all youngsters, expanded health care programs — including the launch of a $35 billion new hearing aid benefit for seniors on Medicare — and some $500 billion to tackle climate change.

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Taking shape after months of prolonged negotiations, the White House cast the overall package as the largest-ever investment in climate change and the biggest improvement to the nation’s health care system in more than a decade.

Biden’s proposal would be paid for by imposing a new 5% surtax on income over $10 million a year, instituting a new 15% corporate minimum tax, and rolling back some of the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts, along with stepped-up enforcement of tax dodgers by the IRS, the officials said. It sticks to his plans to have no new taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year.

Biden will make remarks from the White House about the package, and a related $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, before departing later Oct. 28 on global summits.

Democrats’ disputes over the big domestic policy bill has held up passage of a separate $1 trillion package of road, broadband and other infrastructure projects. But Biden will make the push to send both over the “finish line.”

In the evenly divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., center, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., far left, board an elevator as they leave a meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Despite a series of deadlines, Democrats have been unable to close the deal among themselves, and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the package. At best, Democrats could potentially reach a framework that could send Biden overseas with a deal in hand and unlock the process while the final details were sewn up.

Applying pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a(D-Calif.) announced an Oct. 28 committee hearing to spur the Biden package along toward a full House vote, though timing remained uncertain.

White House officials met at the Capitol with Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), two senators who now hold enormous power, essentially deciding whether Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.

An Oct. 31 deadline loomed for approving a smaller, bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire.

— Lisa Mascaro, Aamer Madhani and Alan Fram wrote this story with contributions from Zarnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking.

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