politics

Biden Meets With Sens. Manchin, Sinema as Democrats Try to Build Support for $3.5 Trillion Bill

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
  • President Joe Biden was set to meet with Sens. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, two centrist Democrats skeptical of his $3.5 trillion economic plan.
  • Biden will need both of the senators' votes to get the massive investment in the social safety net and climate change through Congress.
  • Manchin has called for a pause in considering the bill and reportedly favors a $1.5 trillion price tag.

President Joe Biden was set to meet Wednesday with Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema as he tries to nudge the skeptical Democrats to back his sprawling $3.5 trillion economic plan.

The president spoke with Sinema, who represents Arizona, at the White House in the morning. He was expected to meet with Manchin, a West Virginia lawmaker, later in the day.

Both centrists have criticized the proposed $3.5 trillion price tag, and Manchin has called on party leaders to delay votes on the legislation.

The meetings come at a pivotal point for an agenda that Democrats hope will offer a lifeline to households and stymie Republican efforts to win control of Congress next year. Party leaders gave congressional committees a Wednesday deadline to write their portions of the bill, and they hope to send it to Biden's desk in the coming weeks.

Democrats have to navigate a political maze before they can pass what they call the biggest investment in the social safety net in decades. While the party does not need a GOP vote to approve the bill through budget reconciliation, a single Democratic defection can sink it in the Senate, giving Manchin and Sinema massive leverage to shape the plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can lose only three votes in her caucus and pass the legislation. She has to balance the often competing interests of centrists wary of $3.5 trillion in spending and progressives who see the sum as a minimum investment.

The plan's success has huge stakes for Biden, who has seen his approval ratings dip amid a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and a coronavirus resurgence fueled by the delta variant. The president has cast his economic plan as a jolt to the working class and an overdue effort to mitigate climate change.

"Yes, we face a crisis, but we face a crisis with an unprecedented opportunity to create good jobs of the future, to create industries of the future, to win the future, to save the planet," he said in Colorado on Tuesday.

The bill is set to expand child care and paid leave, create universal pre-K, make community college free and increase public health-care coverage. It would also encourage adoption of green energy and construction of energy-efficient, weather-resilient infrastructure through tax credits and other incentives.

To pay for the legislation, Democrats plan to hike taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals. A framework put forward in the House proposed a top corporate tax rate of 26.5%, a top individual rate of 39.6% and a 3% surcharge on personal income above $5 million.

Comments from Manchin and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in recent days underscored the ideological gulf Democrats have to overcome to pass the plan. Manchin reportedly favors a bill that costs up to $1.5 trillion.

Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said Sunday that the price tag is "absolutely not acceptable to me" or Biden.

Asked Tuesday about Sanders' insistence that the bill will cost $3.5 trillion, Manchin told reporters, "God bless him is all I can say."

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