President Joe Biden informed House progressives Tuesday afternoon that the final bill to expand the social safety net is expected to drop tuition-free community college, a major White House priority, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
And the President discussed a $1.75 to $1.9 trillion price tag for the sweeping spending package, according to a person familiar with the talks. While the number is not finalized, it is far closer to West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin's $1.5 trillion top line than progressives' number, which was $3.5 trillion.
Joe Biden discusses $1.9 trillion top line for economic package and tells Democrats free community college is out
Moreover, he indicated that the child tax credit -- a key Democratic priority -- would likely be extended for one additional year, much shorter than what many in their party wanted, one of the sources said. The child tax credit will also likely be means tested, keeping with what Manchin had wanted.
Biden also indicated to the group that they would reduce the proposed funding for so-called homecare for the elderly and disabled -- down to less than $250 billion, sources said. Democrats had wanted to keep the funding at $400 billion.
The President told progressive lawmakers that negotiators are weighing reducing the duration of the paid leave benefit outlined in the package to four weeks, down from a proposed 12 weeks, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.
Democrats for several days have grappled with how to address Manchin's concerns over the scale of the program, according to multiple people involved, and have considered proposals to trim the total weeks of the program entirely, or to phase in the program over time, starting with a shorter duration and then expanding it over the course of a decade.
The President said they plan to keep an expansion of Medicare, which includes hearing, dental and vision -- in line with what the progressives want.
Cia Rep. Roaliforn Khanna also told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead" on Tuesday that Biden planned to provide "community college scholarships" in the package.
Biden had called for making two years of community college free -- a long-time priority for many Democrats. Some progressives -- like Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats -- have pushed for even more, calling for making tuition free at public, four-year colleges.
The President has highlighted the free college proposal in speeches across the country for months, telling one audience in July he was "insisting that we have universal pre-kindergarten (and) two years of free community college."
Biden, however, indicated the provision could be cut from the final plan late last week.
Speaking about his social safety net proposal at a child care center in Connecticut on Friday, the President said, "I don't know that I can get it done, but I also have proposed free community college, like you've done here in the state of Connecticut, to help students from lower-income families attend community college (and) four-year schools."
Former President Barack Obama proposed making community college free back in 2015, but it never happened on a federal level. Many blue and red states, as well as cities, have enacted some version of a law law making tuition free, but enacting the program at a federal level could have provided a much-needed jolt for two-year colleges, which saw a huge drop in enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Khanna indicated to Tapper that the President wanted to keep universal pre-K, along with about $300 billion in investments to help combat climate change.
Debate over climate change within the final bill has not yet been settled -- since progressives want to go much further and Manchin has resisted those plans.
Democrats are debating what they should include after Manchin said he would oppose an electricity standard to force utilities to use cleaner-burning fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% over the next decade.
"There is a wide menu of options" to replace the policy, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a close Biden ally, told CNN. However, Democrats have not yet coalesced around one specific replacement for their clean energy plan.
The party doesn't have much time to act.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told CNN that Senate Democrats agree they need to get a deal done this week, including a framework and a topline number.
Democrats have less than two weeks until the President is set to attend the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow. And while Biden did not explicitly set a deadline, he made clear in his meeting with Democrats that his goal was to have a locked-in framework agreement that would clear the way for a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill before he arrives at the conference, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
Khanna told Tapper that Biden "was focused on delivering something before he goes to Glasgow and he made a compelling case."
"He looked people in the eye and said the prestige of the United States is on the line. I need this to go represent the United States overseas," Khanna said.
Democratic leaders have pressed lawmakers to have an agreement before October 31 in order to move the infrastructure bill before the expiration of the short-term surface transportation funding patch. But while the timelines roughly line up, Biden pressed progressives in the meeting to ensure he had an agreement in hand before his arrival at the climate conference, noting the stakes for the US if did not.
One source in the meeting called it "the most forceful case I've heard him make on the need for an agreement on a specific timeline."
Progressives, up to this point, have said they want the multi-trillion climate and economic package passed before they'll provide the votes to pass the infrastructure measure.
Biden pushes progressive and centrist Democrats closer to a deal on Build Back Better bill
President Joe Biden huddled with members of the two warring factions of Democratic lawmakers Tuesday in a bid to salvage his sprawling economic agenda.
By late Tuesday, there were early signs of progress towards a compromise.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the talks “constructive” in a statement on Tuesday evening.
“The president is more confident this evening about the path forward,” Psaki said. She noted that the discussions “focused around a shared commitment to the care economy, ensuring working families have more breathing room, addressing the climate crisis, and investing in industries of the future.”
While these four topics may sound like political speak, they hint at the specific proposals that Democrats are coalescing around, and just as importantly, which ones are likely to be left on the table.
For example, “the care economy” means childcare subsidies, universal preschool and in-home eldercare. It does not mean free community college, which was initially part of Biden’s agenda but which NBC News reported Tuesday is likely to be dropped from a final deal.
Giving working families “more breathing room” means federal paid parental leave and expanded Child Tax Credits. It does not mean allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, however: Another proposal that could be set aside in order to win consensus among a fractured caucus.
Lastly, “addressing the climate crisis and investing in industries of the future” means funding new, clean, sources of renewable energy. What it does not mean is imposing fines on existing coal and gas fired power plants that do not meet government-set clean energy targets.
Tuesday’s discussions at the White House came as Democrats struggled to bridge deep divisions within their caucus over a massive bill to invest in the social safety net and climate policy, both core pieces of Biden’s domestic agenda.
The outcome of this week’s talks could determine not only whether the social safety net proposal gets through Congress, but also whether its companion legislation, a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate, garners a majority in the House.
Biden’s first meeting Tuesday morning was with Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat and a key vote who can sink or save Biden’s domestic policy plan in the 50-50 split Senate.
Biden also met in the morning with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Like Manchin, Sinema is a moderate Democrat who has far refused to embrace the social safety net bill that makes up one half of Biden’s two-part domestic policy plan.
Later in the day, the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with House progressives first, and later with House and Senate centrists.
Progressives invited for a meeting that began at 2 p.m. ET included Reps. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Ritchie Torres of New York and Jimmy Gomez, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee, all of California.
Following that meeting, Jayapal told reporters outside the White House that it was a “really good, productive meeting,” but she did not say whether any concrete decisions had been made.
A later meeting at 4:30 p.m. ET was attended by Sens. Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Jon Tester of Montana and Virginia’s Mark Warner. They were joined by California Reps. Ami Bera and Mike Thompson, Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Tom O’Halleran of Arizona.
Joe Biden discusses $1.9 trillion top line for economic package