Progressives Embrace Climate and Tax Deal, Despite Disappointments


WASHINGTON — With a key piece of Democrats’ domestic agenda in sight within days, progressives in Congress are gathering, reluctantly but resolutely, around a climate, health and tax package that is a shadow of the ambitious social policy from cradle to grave overhaul they once demanded.

Bowing to the reality of their party’s lean majorities in the House and Senate, liberals seem poised to embrace a package written, cut, and rewritten again to suit the centrists in their ranks — and then to them. presented as the only option to even achieve. a glimmer of their ambitions while the Democrats still control the government.

“It’s a gun to your head,” Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and the chair of the Budgets Committee, said in an interview on Friday. He complained that two Democratic holdouts — Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — insisted on massive cuts in spending and tax hikes before agreeing to the package.

“Am I disappointed in that? I certainly am,” he said, refusing to commit to voting for the final product. “On the other hand, what you have to consider is that the future of the Earth is at stake.”

The measure, which faces a crucial test vote on Saturday and is on track to clear Congress of unanimous Republican opposition by the end of next week, will fulfill a number of long-sought Democratic priorities, giving the party and President Biden a victory over the mid-term congressional elections. With nearly $400 billion in climate and energy proposals, it is the largest federal investment in the effort to slow global warming — “nothing to sneeze at,” admitted Mr. Sanders.

It would also extend more comprehensive grants to the Affordable Care Act and make changes to the tax code intended to make it more equitable. And the legislation would seriously defeat the pharmaceutical industry by allowing Medicare, for the first time in its history, to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with drug manufacturers, potentially saving some older Americans thousands of dollars a year. to spare.

“The American people are on our side,” New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer told a news conference Friday. “The American people know we’ve shifted these priorities, and they overwhelmingly support what the Democrats are doing.”

But the measure has none of the proposals to invest in public education and expand the national parental safety net by providing childcare, paid leave or a monthly payment to most families with children.

Sitting in a conference room on Friday, Mr. Sanders — who had urged to spend as much as $6 trillion — tapped some of those omissions, characterizing most parts of the legislation as modest steps forward. He has taken to the Senate floor in recent days to describe his dismay at what he sees as the bill’s shortcomings and has vowed to force votes in the coming days to try to push it up.

There are also additions that have angered progressives. Mr. Manchin received several concessions for his coal-producing state and the fossil fuel industry, including tax cuts for carbon capture technology and a requirement that the federal government auction off more public waters and lands for drilling. He also won a separate pledge to complete a controversial pipeline in West Virginia.

Ms. Sinema has jettisoned a proposal aimed at reducing a tax break for wealthy businesspeople, including private equity executives and hedge fund managers, allowing them to pay a much lower tax rate on some income than other taxpayers.

Mr. Schumer noted Friday that while some lawmakers were disappointed that this proposal was scrapped, several Liberal senators were pleased that it had been replaced in the bill with a new tax on company share buybacks.

Yet the acceptance of the plan by progressives reflects a substantial change in attitude. With Democrats taking new power in Washington last year, liberals in the party envisioned a transformative domestic policy plan that would spend a staggering $3.5 trillion, funded by tax increases for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, to provide childcare and parental leave. . increase care for the elderly and disabled and expand public education.

They flexed their muscles at crucial moments and at one point refused to support a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that was a key part of Mr Biden’s agenda until they could be sure of the success of the social policy and climate plan. . But while Republicans were firmly against, Democratic leaders had no room for maneuver in the 50-50 Senate, giving Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema an effective veto power over the package.

Mr Manchin, a coal and oil advocate, said he feared exacerbating inflation through overspending. Ms. Sinema embraced investment in the fight against climate change, but shelved plans to revise tax laws and raise tax rates for corporations and the wealthy. Negotiations dragged on for months, and just weeks ago they appeared to have stalled, bringing climate and tax measures to a halt. But in the space of a week, Mr. Manchin and Mrs. Sinema both came by after substantial changes to win them over.

Liberals said the resulting package was less than they wanted, but a clear indication of their influence on Capitol Hill and in the White House, where, they argued, their strong advocacy for a more ambitious bill helped prevent the plan from shrinking even further.

“You have to recognize that this is a huge step forward and this is a huge progressive victory,” Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview. “And that’s not to say that everything is a progressive victory.”

The measure can still change. Senators on Friday announced plans to raise $4 billion to fight drought in the parched Western states, while Senate officials assessed whether the bill met the arcane requirements of the budget reconciliation process. Those rules, protecting the measure from a Republican filibuster, could force revisions in the coming days.

While liberals set their ambitions high, especially after successfully wading through the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill in March 2021 with no Republican votes, some Democrats said the rise in inflation in recent months has fueled enthusiasm for significantly more. federal spending has slowed down.

“Looking back, the $3.5 trillion package was too aggressive — I know others would disagree,” Virginia Democrat Senator Mark Warner said in an interview. “But if you have a 50-50 Senate, the idea that we could settle everything in one bill was probably too aggressive.”

Mr. Warner, who helped negotiate the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that would allow Democrats to embark on the package and worked closely with Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema to allay their concerns, admitted the legislation had its disappointments. “Obviously this has been a long and winding road, but I think there’s a damn good product out there,” he added.

Liberals have particularly focused on investment in climate change, emphatically crediting young activists and voters for urging their party to take action.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — the finance committee has never done anything like it,” said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the committee’s chairman.

Democratic leaders said they believed they had enough support from Democrats in both chambers to push the measure through Congress next week. As a sign of that confidence, House Democratic leaders asked lawmakers to prepare to return to Washington on Aug. 12 for final approval of the measure.