- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2021

Progressive Democrats in the House bolstered the chances of President Biden being able to eventually pass his slimmed-down $1.75 trillion social welfare package on Thursday when they endorsed “in principle” the framework released by the administration hours earlier.

However, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, shot down hopes of Mr. Biden being able to announce the passage of both the social welfare and $1.25 trillion infrastructure package when he arrives at the United Nations climate conference known as COP26 in Glasgow later in the day.

Ms. Jayapal, speaking with reporters after a meeting with other progressives, backed down on the caucus’ threat to not pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the more controversial social welfare bill. But the Washington Democrat said the caucus, whose nearly 100 members can block any legislation, would not pass the bipartisan bill until they see the details of what Mr. Biden laid out in the larger bill in writing.

“Things aren’t being subtracted” before committing to it. “That’s why we’re saying we endorse it in principle because the things that were laid out today, sound good,” she said.

Ms. Jayapal and progressives may have decided to take what they can get after opposition from more moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona trimmed the size of the package from $3 trillion. 

Mr. Biden’s framework cuts key liberal priorities, including the creation of federally-subsidized paid family and medical leave and the expansion of Medicare to cover dental and hearing care. The framework also left out a proposal by Democrats to lower drug prices, although senators said talks to add that provision are continuing.

The framework would still spend $1.75 trillion on liberal causes like expanding health care and climate measures. 

“This is a significant set of investments that will be transformational. It includes significant investments in child care, universal health care, significant investments in climate change, investments in making the tax system more fair,” Ms. Jayapal said.

“It’s not everything that we would do if we had much bigger majorities,” she acknowledged. But seeing it as a stepping stone, she vowed that progressives would continue to try to make progress on the measures being left out.

The caucus has been holding the bipartisan infrastructure bill moderates have been pushing for hostage, demanding that in order to get support from the left to pass it, moderates would have to support the social welfare package.

Progressives had said they would not pass the infrastructure bill until the Senate, including Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, passed the social welfare bill. Ms. Jayapal backed off on the demand that the Senate pass the social welfare bill first.

“Look, I just have to trust the president United States when he says he believes he’ll deliver” the passage of the social welfare bill in the Senate, Ms. Jayapal said.

Mr. Biden, in a speech on Thursday, touted his plan. “It is a framework that will create millions of jobs, grow the economy, invest in our nation and our people,” Mr. Biden said..

“No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. And that’s what I ran on,” Mr. Biden said.

The framework includes the largest expansion of federal health care coverage since the Affordable Care Act and would reduce premiums for more than 9 million Americans.

It also includes a one-year extension of the expanded child tax credit through 2022 and a provision that would make the credit permanently available to low-income families that don’t pay income taxes.

The new framework also sets aside $150 billion to support long-term care for elderly and disabled Americans, six years of universal pre-kindergarten, and six years of child care subsidies.

More than $555 billion will be set aside for provisions combating climate change, including $320 billion in 10-year expanded tax credits for renewable energy, electric vehicles and clean energy manufacturing.

The massive spending bill will be funded with a potential surtax on wealthy Americans’ income.

“Pay your fair share. Pay your fair share,” the president said, repeating the far-left mantra for effect.

A 5% surtax will be imposed on adjusted gross income above $10 billion and another 3% on adjusted gross income over $25 million.

The framework also calls for a 3.8% investment-income tax on active business income.

The plan also proposes a 15% minimum tax on profitable corporations and higher taxes on U.S. companies’ foreign income.

Another $100 billion is earmarked to reduce immigration backlogs, expand legal representation and bolster the border processing system.

Protect Our Care, a liberal health care advocacy group, on Thursday blasted the exclusion of a provision to lower drug prices.

“The failure to include any measures to lower prescription drug prices is a victory for Big Pharma and a profound loss for the American people,” said the group’s chairman Leslie Dach.

“As a result of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, and the actions of a handful of pro-Pharma lawmakers, the current framework would allow drug companies to continue to charge outrageous prices, and Americans will continue to struggle to pay for the medications they need to survive.”

Democrats had proposed to require drug companies to negotiate down prices they charge Medicare. The companies would be forced to charge people who are covered through private insurance the same prices. However, drug companies lobbied heavily against the bill saying it would reduce the amount of money they have to develop new cures.

Still, the group joined others on the left who said the bill would still include major wins.

“Democrats are going to pass the most significant expansion to health care since the Affordable Care Act,” Mr. Dach said.

Most importantly, the framework would provide coverage to more than two million lower-income people in 12 red states that have refused to cover more people under Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.

“Closing the Medicaid coverage gap is the single most important step Congress can take to reduce racial inequities in health care, and it will save lives and strengthen families,” Mr. Dach said.

The League of Conservation Voters urged Congress to go ahead and pass the measure despite complaints from the left that it does not go far enough.

“It’s a historic day for people and the planet. Once passed, this framework for the Build Back Better Act will be the strongest action the United States has ever taken to combat the climate crisis,” Gene Karpinski, president of the influential group, said.

“Right now is the time to finalize this transformational bill and get it done.”

• Kery Murakami can be reached at kmurakami@washingtontimes.com.

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