A handful of Democrats control the fate of the party agenda

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There are fewer ideologically rigid members in the House and Senate these days, but they wield outsize leverage over legislation meant to serve as the centerpiece of the Democratic agenda.

Senate Democrats missed a self-imposed Sept. 15 deadline for committees to produce the legislative text for a massive social welfare spending package.

Instead, party lawmakers sat on the sidelines while Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona held private meetings with President Joe Biden to discuss the cost and scope of the spending package and what they would be willing to accept to vote for it.

Democrats had hoped to begin advancing the $3.5 trillion legislation by the end of the month, but without the two lawmakers on board, they can’t pass it in the evenly split Senate.

Manchin and Sinema are among a group of Democrats who have criticized the cost and size of the spending bill and some of the provisions in it, including big tax increases and policies meant to eliminate fossil fuels and to lower prescription drug prices.

A small faction of House Democrats is also flexing its power to influence the legislation.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, voted against advancing a portion of the $3.5 trillion bill out of the Ways and Means Committee after complaining the massive measure was being rushed through without enough consideration.

Murphy questioned both the spending and tax provisions in the bill and whether the federal government really has the means to pay for the broad array of social welfare programs the legislation would create.

The bill would provide free preschool, free community college, money for those caring for the elderly and disabled, paid family and medical leave, expanded Medicare benefits, an extension of the child tax credit, and much more.

House Democratic leaders hoped to pass the bill by the end of the month, ahead of consideration of a Senate-passed, bipartisan infrastructure package that is part of the centerpiece of the Biden agenda. But without full agreement among Democrats, that deadline will be difficult to meet.

“We were given an artificial deadline in which to craft and mark up this bill, and I believe it was too rushed, driven by politics rather than policy,” Murphy said.

Earlier this week, three Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee blocked the panel from adding a provision into the legislation backed by top party leaders that would have provided up to $700 billion in savings by authorizing the federal government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices.

Reps. Scott Peters of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Kathleen Rice of New York voted along with GOP lawmakers to oppose the provision, blocking it from inclusion in the bill. Critics of the provision say it would hurt innovation and reduce the number of new and lifesaving drugs.

Democratic opposition to the drug negotiation language could threaten the final passage of the bill because the provision is likely to be included by another committee authorizing parts of the legislation.

Democrats control a very slim majority and can afford to lose only three votes if they hope to pass the legislation without Republican support.

The trio of Democrats is instead sponsoring their own legislation aimed at helping seniors pay for prescription drugs by capping out-of-pocket costs for lower-income individuals.

Democrats are also struggling to win over colleagues on big tax increases they plan to pay for the legislation.

Manchin has called for a 25% cap on corporate taxes, but House Democrats have proposed raising the current 21% rate to 26.5%.

Sen. Jon Tester, from the red state of Montana, so far won’t accept language authored by fellow Democrats on taxing capital gains that Tester said would hurt family-owned farms. Democrats need the tax revenue to help pay for the bill.

Tester told reporters in the Capitol this week he wants the entire $3.5 trillion package offset with other revenue. So far, the House version of the legislation would cover pay for $2.9 trillion.

Manchin has been the most vocally opposed to the package among Democrats and has been making the talk show rounds, doubling down on his opposition and citing the trillions of dollars already spent by the federal government in the past year to help the nation cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and how it may be increasing inflation.

“People are talking to me in West Virginia about the price of gas, the price of everything they buy, including their groceries, how it's affecting them,” Manchin said on ABC’s This Week. “I think we need to see what we're doing right now and the effects we're having.”

Manchin suggested he would support a bill costing $1.5 trillion, but it’s not clear whether he would accept a higher number if it does not contribute to the nation’s already staggering deficit and debt. Manchin also opposes aggressive clean energy policies Democrats are calling for that would aim to eliminate fossil fuels.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and socialist, said he will not agree to reduce the package from $3.5 trillion, no matter what Manchin demands, reminding reporters he already reduced the spending plan from $6 trillion earlier this year.

Sanders told PBS News this week he believes all Democrats will eventually vote for the bill.

“We’re working 24-7, trying to resolve everybody's problem,” Sanders said. “But if you're asking me, at the end of the day, do I think the Democratic caucus will turn its back on the needs of working families, turn its back on the unbelievable crisis we face in terms of climate change? No, I do not believe we will turn our back. I think we will resolve it. We will come together, and we will pass this $3.5 trillion bill.”

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Tags: News, Congress, Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Jon Tester, Scott Peters, Democratic Party, Budget, Spending, Taxes, Deficit

Original Author: Susan Ferrechio

Original Location: A handful of Democrats control the fate of the party agenda

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