WASHINGTON — Democrats announced a partial breakthrough in their intraparty standoff that threatens to kill President Joe Biden’s signature social program bill.
Progressive and centrist Democrats have been battling over how much to spend, what to spend it on, and how to pay for it. But after a series of White House meetings Wednesday, Democrats announced Thursday morning that they have a broad deal on how to pay for the bill.
“The White House, House, and the Senate have reached an agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “So the revenue side of this we have an agreement on.”
Schumer provided no details of the agreement. When asked what a deal for a “framework” means, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters “it means we made great progress and we’re proceeding.”
Last week, House Democrats released a plan to pay for the bill by raising taxes on millionaires, hiking the corporate tax rate, and upping the capital gains tax for high-income earners.
Democrats broadly agree with raising taxes on the rich to pay for the bill but have substantial differences over the details. Most notably, party leaders want to save the government hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade by allowing the federal government to negotiate down the drug prices paid through Medicare. Some centrists oppose this measure and have already tried to strike it down.
There are also major disagreements about the size of the bill, dubbed the Build Back Better Act. Progressives want to raise around $3.5 trillion to spend on social programs such as paid universal parental leave, an expansion of Medicare, a permanent child tax credit for parents, and investments in green energy. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday this number already represents a major compromise by progressives.
But West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the most vocal centrist Democrats and a person whose vote is crucial, said he wants the size of the bill to be smaller. But how much smaller is unclear. Manchin met with Biden Wednesday and afterward told reporters he did not state a topline number he’d be comfortable with.
These talks are bumping up against a self-imposed deadline that Democrats seem certain to miss. Pelosi had promised to put the party’s infrastructure bill, already passed by the Senate, to a vote on the House floor by Monday. But progressives are vowing to block that bill until there is a deal on the Build Back Better Act.
It’s ultimately a play for leverage. Centrists overwhelmingly support the infrastructure bill, which gives them a record to tout in the midterm elections. Progressives are holding that bill hostage to try to maximize what gets included in the more controversial social program bill. The question is whether angry centrists will try to sink the Build Back Better Act if Monday passes without a vote on the infrastructure bill.
Asked whether the framework deal announced Thursday means the Monday vote might be back on, Pelosi said, “We take it one day at a time.”