- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2021

President Biden struck an optimistic tone Wednesday about the fate of his two massive spending bills on social-welfare programs and infrastructure as he visited his childhood hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to emphasize his blue-collar credentials.

“I think we’re going to surprise them,” Mr. Biden said of his doubters in the media. “Because I think people are beginning to figure out what is at stake.”

Speaking at the Electric City Trolley Museum, Mr. Biden touted his working-class upbringing in Scranton, saying those experiences shaped the agenda he is urging Democrats in Congress to get across the finish line.

The president also said the proposals are exactly what he campaigned for last year.

“Both these bills were all that I talked about,” Mr. Biden said. “But guess what? Eighty-one million people voted for me — more people voted than any time in American history. And their voices deserve to be heard.”

Mr. Biden hasn’t hesitated to highlight his ties to Scranton when he’s needed a boost during grueling campaigns. He’s hoping a similar bid will pay off for his teetering agenda.

The president’s pitch came as the Democratic Party’s warring political factions moved closer on Wednesday to a final agreement for Mr. Biden’s massive party-line spending bill, originally proposed for $3.5 trillion.

Some Democrats estimate the final figure for the bill is likely to be between $1.75 trillion and $1.95 trillion, closer to the $1.5 trillion ceiling supported months ago by holdout Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

To reach the figure, Mr. Biden has jettisoned several top priorities from the bill. Already out, according to sources, is the $108 billion that Democrats earmarked to pay for at least two free years of community college for all students, regardless of citizenship status.

“That was not one of our five priorities, but I just kept pushing it every time, every chance I could because I really believed in it,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “But it doesn’t look like that will be in there.”

Also on the chopping block is making the child tax credit permanent; lawmakers instead are eyeing a one-year extension. Mr. Biden expanded the credit earlier this year, giving parents with children under the age of $3,600 in direct payments annually.

The expansion was only supposed to be temporary to help deal with the fallout of the COVID-19.

Most Democrats have called for making the program permanent, despite fiscal watchdogs estimating it would cost upward of $1.6 trillion over the next decade. There is also talk of limiting eligibility to families earning $60,000 per year or less.

To further save costs and placate moderates, Mr. Biden is considering scaling down his paid family leave plan. Initially, the White House proposed spending $225 billion to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to employees.

Now, Mr. Biden has told lawmakers the plan is likely to offer four weeks of leave, only for individuals making less than $100,000.

Similarly, means-testing is likely to apply to the administration’s proposal for child-care subsidies. Mr. Biden has told lawmakers, however, that his original plan to spend $450 billion to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program for children ages 3 and 4 is likely to remain unchanged.

Neither progressive nor moderates have endorsed the compromises Mr. Biden has floated. Strong divisions also remain over climate change and expanding Medicare to cover vision, dental, and hearing coverage.

And another holdout Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, is still opposed to Mr. Biden’s proposals to raise taxes on corporations and high earners.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued that progress was being made in putting together a bill that would be in line with Mr. Biden’s domestic priorities and acceptable to all Democrats. Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, said that a potential deal on the package’s framework could be finalized this week.

“It’s very possible, we’ve been on schedule for every deadline,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “We have a goal, we have milestones … and we will be where we need to be in order to reach our goal.”

In Scranton, Mr. Biden listed the provisions in his social safety net bill. He said those proposals will make it easier for lower- and middle-class families to buy homes and attend college. It would also lower the cost of child care, he said.

He also repeatedly hammered home the 98% of the jobs he says will be created under his smaller infrastructure bill.

“It’s the ultimate blue collar, middle-class renewal,” he said. “Real serious work that needs to get done.”

Giving a shoutout to relatives sitting in the front row, Mr. Biden recalled attending mass at a nearby Catholic church and playing shortstop on a local little league team.

“Scranton isn’t my home because of the memories it gave me, it’s my home because of the values it gave me,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “So when I ran for president, I came back to Scranton …. and I resolved to bring Scranton values to bear to make a fundamental shift in our economy so it works for working people.

 Over the years, Mr. Biden has repeatedly referenced his Scranton roots as a political move to woo working-class voters.

He cast the 2020 presidential election against then-President Trump as a contest between “Scranton and Wall Street.” During his time in office, Mr. Biden became known as “Pennsylvania’s third senator” because of his Scranton roots and the fact that large portions of his home state of Delaware are part of the Philadelphia suburbs.

But Mr. Biden also left Scranton in 1953, just before he turned 11, when his father, Joe Sr., sought a new job.  

During last year’s election, Mr. Trump told a crowd near Scranton that Mr. Biden “deserted” them.

On Wednesday, protesters were on the route in downtown Scranton as Mr. Biden’s motorcade approached museum. Some waved Trump signs and anti-abortion signs. Others held signs such as “not my president” and “Bidenhole,” with a few “welcome” signs mixed in.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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