Democrats race to reach deal on economic initiatives

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday continued to clash over a slew of policy disagreements that have stalled roughly $3 trillion in new economic spending initiatives, raising the prospect that President Biden could depart for a foreign tour this week without a long-sought deal in hand.

Two days before the trip, Democratic lawmakers in the nation’s capital still had failed to resolve some of their most intractable disputes. Talks advanced between the party’s warring moderate and liberal factions, but they still appeared far apart on their plans to expand healthcare coverage, invest in green energy, provide paid leave to all Americans and overhaul the tax code.

One of their more audacious ideas — a new tax targeting hundreds of the country’s billionaires — remained in political limbo. A number of Democrats had hoped to create it in a way that raised more than half of its revenue from just 10 people, including Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post). But others questioned whether the “billionaires tax” actually would work, clouding its political prospects.

The late-stage scramble over the details added to the steep task Democrats already faced in financing their new proposal, which could be valued at $1.75 trillion over 10 years.

Some Democratic leaders insisted Tuesday they are closer than they seem on a deal. A group of lawmakers — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — rallied behind a plan to finance the spending through a new minimum tax on corporations. Some Democrats hoped they could seize on the compromise to build more momentum, potentially opening the door for Biden to achieve a legislative victory before he arrives in Rome for the G-20 meeting of world leaders Saturday followed by a trip to Glasgow, Scotland, for a climate summit a day later.

For now, though, the persistent battles continued to bog down Democrats’ signature economic initiative. And they presented new obstacles for the future of a separate measure to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections. The latter proposal cleared the Senate in August, but it remains imperiled in the House, where left-leaning lawmakers on Tuesday maintained that they will not vote on one without the other — raising the odds that a resolution on Biden’s agenda could slip by another week.

The standoff illustrated anew the perils of governing with narrow majorities. Biden may appear to enjoy a moment of rare power in Washington, with the House, Senate and White House all in Democratic hands. But his party’s divisions are many, and distrust among its members remain high, making the process of shepherding the president’s economic vision into reality all the more complicated.

Ahead of his foreign trips, Biden has intensified his outreach to Capitol Hill, hoping to secure new spending as part of a broader push to tout Washington’s commitment to combating global warming on an international stage. He met with some Democrats at his private residence in Delaware this weekend and huddled with others at the White House on Tuesday, and Biden administration officials then met late into the evening with two moderate holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sinema.

The efforts helped close some of the divide over his “Build Back Better” tax-and-spending proposal, a sweeping effort to overhaul federal health care, education, climate and tax laws that shares the name of his 2020 presidential campaign slogan. But Biden and his Democratic allies still have considerable work on the horizon to finalize the initiative.


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