Democrats, hoping to capitalize on their expected confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to the Supreme Court this week, plan to immediately turn their attention to another effort to pass President Joe Biden's spending bill.
They'll need the recalcitrant conservative West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's help once again, but Politico reports that they have a plan to do so — and on a self-imposed 56-day deadline. That's Memorial Day.
"You either do it before Memorial Day or you’re not going to do it," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a friend of Manchin, told Politico.
After that midterm election season is in high gear, with Democrats expected to lose their slim Senate majority and likely even their House majority. Passing something now could be their last opportunity for years.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says the effort is "high priority" after Manchin put the kibosh on what was then dubbed the Build Back Better bill in December. But Manchin is seen by Democrats as being more open to negotiation now, Politico reported.
"Really, I can’t give you a reading on it, if there’s anything serious about this. You have chatter, and we talk to everybody. And there’s nothing serious," Manchin told Politico. But asked if that could change, he said, "It could. After next week, we’ll see, after the judge and all that, maybe things will pick up."
Not everyone on the left side of the aisle is convinced Manchin will be turned this time.
Sen. Bernie Sanders-, I-Vt., spokesperson Mike Casca is one of them.
"I'd love to be wrong, but I'm not holding my breath," he told Politico.
Barring a budget deal, which they'd likely use the reconciliation process to pass with a simple majority and cut out GOP filibuster efforts, Democrats could still pass something smaller to claim some sort of victory, such as more funding for alternative energy and cutting prescription drug prices.
"We still have a chance to get something not just significant, but unprecedented, done. And I think we should use every possible ounce of energy we have to do that," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told Politico. "April and May is a good window within which to do it. If it went a little later than that, fine. I don’t think this should be dragged out over four to five months."
Biden's $5.8 trillion budget for next year would trim federal deficits and boost taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Both could appeal to Manchin amid Democratic hopes of reviving talks with him over the party's derailed social and environment plan.
Biden and his allies touted his budget as focusing on fiscal responsibility, security at home and overseas and investments in social programs to help families afford housing, child care, health care and other costs.
Another highlight: $2.5 trillion in tax increases over 10 years focused on the highest-income people and corporations. That included $361 billion from a minimum 20% tax on families worth $100 million or more — the top one-hundredth of 1% of earners — though it drew some criticism from Manchin.
“It's a budget calling for greater investments in the things that make the biggest difference in the lives of middle-class families and in those working to get to the middle class,” Schumer said Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president’s defense proposal would at best “leave our armed forces simply treading water” because of inflation. He said bigger budgets for agencies like the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency were “bloated liberal nonsense.” And he labeled Biden’s $2.5 trillion, 10-year tax boosts, which the president said would only affect the nation’s highest earners, a “bomb of tax hikes.”
McConnell's critique was no surprise. Presidents' budgets are habitually ignored or reworked by Congress and mocked by the opposition party, a moment that lets both sides draw battle lines useful in upcoming elections.
While much of Biden's budget was similar to last year's, it was also a more centrist repackaging that tilted some of its emphasis in Manchin's direction.
It proposes $795 billion for defense that includes an increase for the Pentagon, and there's money to help law enforcement hire more officers and improve training. “The answer is not to defund our police departments," Biden told reporters, a pointed rebuke of a progressive rallying cry that's been disavowed by nearly all congressional Democrats.
Its stream of new revenue helps Biden assert that his plan would reduce deficits by over $1 trillion over the coming decade — a goal that wasn't emphasized last year. Just over two-thirds of the deficit cuts would come in the plan's final five years, though, postponing the most painful reductions and suggesting they might never happen.
The new revenue would also be used to lower costs for families, Biden said, as Democrats confront the nation's bout with inflation that's become a major political liability.
Reducing budget deficits, battling inflation and raising revenue from the wealthy are also major demands for Manchin.
“He remains seriously concerned about the financial status of our country and believes fighting inflation by restoring fairness to our tax system and paying down our national debt must be our first priority," his spokesperson, Sam Runyon, said Monday.
Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has repeatedly said he wants any new package to focus on domestic energy independence. He wants an “all of the above" policy that combats climate change but helps all forms of energy.
Representing a state that relies heavily on coal and energy production, Manchin and his position have gained political clout because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
“What Russia has put out has to be replaced,” he said, referring to the U.S. cutoff of that country's oil imports.
Of the House-approved $2 trillion bill, $555 billion was for tax breaks and other initiatives for encouraging a switch to cleaner energy. At Manchin's insistence, that bill dropped the original plan's biggest effort to do that by offering financial rewards or penalties for energy producers.
Manchin has also voiced support for including provisions lowering the costs of prescription drugs. The earlier bill would have done that by strengthening the government's ability to negotiate the prices it pays for some pharmaceuticals it purchases, which would save the government money.
Nonetheless, the White House kept some details to itself of what it might offer Manchin in talks.
Budget documents said it was closeting some revenue proposals like prescription drug pricing in a “deficit neutral reserve fund." It was not providing details “because discussions with Congress continue,” the documents said in a footnote.
Biden’s new proposed minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans likely faces an uphill fight. Manchin has supported higher taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, but he suggested Monday that Biden's plan presented complications.
“There's other ways for people to pay their fair share," he said.
A somewhat similar tax on billionaires last year by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., never made the final package. And last year’s House-passed bill already had around $2 trillion in savings, suggesting new proposals may not be needed.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., opposed her party's efforts to raise tax rates on individuals and corporations last year and has apparently not changed her view. Spokesperson Hannah Hurley said Monday that Sinema likes proposals that “target tax avoidance and ensure corporations pay taxes, while not increasing costs on small businesses or everyday Americans.”
Democrats will need all their votes in the 50-50 Senate because all Republicans seem certain to oppose whatever they produce. Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote.
The Associated Press contributed.
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