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Democrats, scale back budget bill, press for compromise by week’s end

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats said Tuesday they hoped to reach a compromise on President Biden’s sprawling domestic policy plan by the end of the week, toiling to move forward after weeks of public bickering and private negotiations with centrist holdouts.

The newfound urgency came when Biden privately admitted that key elements of his social safety net and climate proposal would likely be scrapped or significantly reduced to fit into a measure that would be much smaller than the original $3.5 trillion plan enacted. the Democrats outlined over the summer.

At a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, the president told Democrats that a plan to provide two years of free community college would most likely have to be jettisoned, according to lawmakers in attendance. The concession came days after negotiators began preparations to drop a clean electricity program intended to quickly replace coal- and gas-fired power plants, opposing West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, whose concerns over the package stimulate discussions.

Mr. Biden also raised the possibility of limiting an extension of monthly payments to families with children, potentially extending the program by a year compared to the longer time frame many Democrats were seeking, according to two people known. be with the discussion.

The general bill was still expected to address climate change, provide some federal coverage for kindergarten and home health care, and raise taxes on the rich and corporations.

Democrats have grown increasingly concerned about the fate of their domestic policy plan amid intense divisions in their ranks over its content and little insight into private conversations with two key centrist senators who have cut its cost and scope: Mr Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

But Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Majority Leader, showed up after a private lunch to announce that there was “a general agreement in that chamber that we have to come to an agreement, and we have to get it done, and want to get it done this week.”

“Everyone will be disappointed in certain things, but everyone will be happy with certain things,” he added.

In a private conversation with liberal lawmakers on Tuesday, Mr Biden said he wanted an agreement before traveling to Glasgow for a climate conference at the end of the month. He reiterated that a final package would most likely cost about $2 trillion, according to people familiar with the discussion, who described it on condition of anonymity.

While puzzling over ways to cut the bill, some Democrats have pushed for fewer programs to be included. But lawmakers said many of the proposals in Mr Biden’s original plan would likely remain in one form or another, with shorter terms and limited eligibility.

“It’s not the number we want — we’ve consistently tried to make it as high as possible,” said Washington Democrat Representative Pramila Jayapal and the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The idea that we can do these programs, a multitude of programs, and actually get them going so that they deliver immediate transformational benefits to people is what we’re focused on.”

To get around the unanimous Republican opposition, the Democrats are using an accelerated budget process known as reconciliation to protect it from a filibuster. But they still need to win the votes of all 50 of their senators and nearly every House Democrat.

With deadlines looming to keep the government funded after Dec. 3 and avoid a first-ever federal debt default, Democrats are eager to finalize their policy ambitions.

Much of the effort to bridge the divides within the party has focused on Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema, who both met with Mr Biden on Tuesday. Ms. Sinema missed lunch with Democratic senators because she discussed the plan with senior White House staffers.

Mr. Manchin also had private contact with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the budget committee and a champion of the original $3.5 trillion plan, according to an employee.

Mr Biden, who has been pressured by Democrats to take a more active role in the talks, spent much of Tuesday discussing the package with lawmakers from the liberal and moderate wings of the party.

“After a day of constructive meetings, the president tonight is more confident in the way forward to provide the American people with strong, sustainable economic growth that benefits everyone,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. .

There is little time for Democrats to resolve their differences. Some of them want to vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill before Oct. 31, when a series of transportation programs will expire unless Congress does something. But progressives in the House are holding back on that measure until the Senate passes the Reconciliation Act. Some Democrats hope that if they can reach a compromise on the appeasement measure, it will be enough to persuade the Liberals in the House to pass the infrastructure bill.

“A framework means different things to different people,” said Minnesota Democrat Senator Tina Smith. “What it means to me is that there’s a sufficiently detailed description of what we’re going to do that I won’t be surprised when I see the legislative language, and I think that’s certainly possible.”

One of the main hurdles for Democrats is the scope of climate regulations, after Mr. Manchin panned the clean electricity program and a carbon tax. (Senator Jon Tester of Montana, another major centrist, also said he was concerned about the tax.)

Democrats are in talks to repurpose $150 billion that was earmarked for an effort to get electric utilities to cut emissions faster — which Mr Manchin opposes — to instead fund other efforts to combat climate change. to fight. These include additional tax credits for solar and nuclear power and the capture of carbon emissions from fossil fuel-powered plants. They also include grants and loans to encourage emission reductions in steel, concrete and other industrial uses.

“We’re going for tax incentives — we’re essentially going to incentivize people to move forward with the technology we have,” Mr Manchin said on Tuesday. “We’re going to take the best we have in technology and use it for the betterment of the world.”

But for liberal Democrats, that may not be enough for legislation they see as their best chance at tackling the rising toll of climate change.

“There is very clear concern, and we will work very, very hard to get the strongest piece of legislation possible,” said Maryland Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. “The bottom line: we need 51 votes in the Senate.”

Catie Edmondson, Jim Tankersley and Chris Cameron reporting contributed.

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