Biden suggests free community college proposal on the chopping block

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President Joe Biden was in Connecticut on Friday in his latest push to promote the benefits of his Build Back Better agenda, which promises to provide a number of social services for Americans. 

But one of the big provisions of the plan—free community college—seems to be on the chopping block as the proposed $3.5 trillion budget is scaled down. “I don't know that I can get it done, but I also had proposed this free community college,” Biden said Tuesday, adding the proposal was similar to Connecticut’s program and aimed to help students from lower-income families attend community college.

Biden’s proposal would spend $109 billion to provide two years of free community college and $85 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by nearly $1,500 to help more students pay for college. Additionally, he proposed to invest $46 billion in historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, as well as Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American Pacific Islander–serving institutions. 

The Build Back Better agenda, as initially proposed, would cost $3.5 trillion over 10 years, but Biden and other lawmakers claim it would not add to the deficit, thanks to tax increases for corporations and wealthy Americans. 

But senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have refused to support the $3.5 trillion price tag, calling for far less spending and a more limited scope to Biden’s budget. With Democrats facing only a slim majority in the House and Senate and no Republican support, every Democratic vote is critical. 

Democrat leaders, including Biden, have acknowledged that the package will need to get smaller in order to reach some compromise. “We're probably not going to get $3.5 trillion this year, we're gonna get something less than that, but I'm going to negotiate, I'm going to get it done,” Biden said Friday. 

Last month, in the face of continued resistance, some congressional Democrats proposed including an income cap on who could attend community college tuition-free. A means test would likely lower the price tag of the overall program. 

Additionally, some Democrats were also considering reducing the number of families eligible for the child tax credit. Currently, the tax credit—which provides $3,600 for each child under the age of 6 and $3,000 for each child ages 6 to 17—phases out for married couples making over $400,000. 

On Friday, while Biden admitted it would be a smaller package and that the details of what would be in the final budget were still under negotiation, he was optimistic it would be implemented. “I’m convinced we’re going to get this done,” Biden said, adding that whatever doesn’t make it into the budget this time, he’ll continue to fight for. 

“We're going to come back and get the rest,” Biden said. “We're going to keep coming because the more we demonstrate it works, the more we can do.”

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