Progressives flexed their muscles and forced party leaders to delay a House vote last month on a bipartisan infrastructure bill as they insisted the social spending bill not be left behind. But they are now facing the limits of their power and a hard choice: Revolt against a bill that is significantly watered down from their initial goals or accept what may be the only compromise they can get in the narrowly divided Congress.
Democratic leaders have been pushing for a deal this week in the hopes of holding a vote in the House on both the social safety net package and a separate $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill next week, but major sticking points remain, making it an uphill battle for the party to meet their goal.
Key elements of the plan are still up in the air — including how it will be paid for, whether an expansion of Medicare will be included, and how to deal with climate change and prescription drug pricing — as Democrats scramble to come up with a workable compromise. They are now actively exploring a new tax on billionaires to help finance the package.
The proposal, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, would affect about 700 taxpayers — people who have had more than $1 billion in assets or more than $100 million income for three straight years. It is expected to raise hundreds of billions of dollars.
The person added that there would be new rules to prevent efforts to avoid paying the taxes.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, who is a champion of the plan, said that it would be a “big mistake” not to levy the tax against the richest Americans.
“In a package that’s supposed to be about giving everybody a shot to get ahead, it would be a big mistake, from both a policy and political perspective, not to ask billionaires to pay a fair share,” Wyden said in a statement Friday. “The Billionaires Income Tax is about fairness and showing the American people taxes aren’t mandatory for them and optional for the wealthiest people in the country. No working person in this country thinks it’s right that billionaires can pay no taxes for years on end, and sometimes never at all.”
Sinema, who has not ruled out such a tax hike on billionaires, has also expressed optimism privately that they could be moving closer to a deal on a detailed framework in the coming days, according to another person with knowledge of the matter.
Manchin has expressed concerns over the Democrats’ aggressive approach on climate change as well as expanding Medicare while Sinema has dug in on her opposition to raising the corporate tax rate and the top marginal rate on individuals, which Democrats had wanted to finance the plan. Senate Democrats need every one of the 50 members of their caucus to vote for the package for it to pass without GOP support under a process known as budget reconciliation, giving Manchin and Sinema outsized influence.
Progressive House Democrats on Friday pushed back on Sinema and Manchin’s positions over the social safety net package, expressing disappointment at the concessions and also warning that they weren’t ready to support the infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August if the larger plan isn’t moving ahead.
“I think it would be dangerous, and I don’t want to do anything dangerous for the American people,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, said when asked if she could support the infrastructure bill if the larger bill has not been approved by the House and Senate. “The two have to go together. I know there is some advocacy, I think it is a single member of the Senate that wants to see that happen. Frankly, I am not prepared to yield to that.”
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who is running for the Senate, said he understands “the process” of getting to a deal but also expressed disappointment at the concessions made. He was critical of the likely move to drop a hike of the corporate rate.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” Ryan said. “We want all of it. I thought it should have been $3.5 trillion.”
On corporate tax hikes and expanding Medicare, he said: “When you look at CEO pay has gone up 1,300% since the ’70s — 1,300% — and wages have gone up 18% for workers, and we don’t have the courage to ask them to help us rebuild the country, take on China, put money in people’s pockets so our seniors don’t have to pay for their glasses, their hearing aids, I think it’s ridiculous. But again, that’s the process.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal told reporters Friday that his proposals — raising the tax rates on corporations and high-earners — remain the best option to pay for the massive social safety net package that Biden is trying to reach.
And for the second straight day, Neal warned that if Sinema’s way prevails — to pay for the package through other sources of revenue — it will take time to vet and put together.
“So the new proposals that are coming up here in the ninth inning, they strike me as they’re going to need some time to be vetted. That’s one of the challenges,” Neal said.
Manchin and Sinema have both said that they are engaged in good-faith negotiations trying to find common ground on a bill that will implement Biden’s agenda. Manchin said Thursday everyone will pay their “fair share” when it comes to increasing taxes to pay for Democrats’ Build Back Better package.
“They’re gonna pay, people have to pay, everyone has to pay their fair share,” he said, when asked if the package can be paid for without increasing taxes on corporations.
Biden directly addressed the critical importance of Sinema and Manchin to reaching a deal at a CNN town hall on Thursday. The President said it appeared unlikely he would get corporate tax hikes included in the plan amid opposition from Sinema. It would also be a “reach,” the President said, to include dental, vision and hearing coverage in Medicare, a key priority for progressives, saying that Manchin opposed the provision and that he believed Sinema was against it as well.
Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, accused Sinema and Manchin of listening to their donors instead of lower-income and regular Americans.
“And I feel like they are not looking at that, not wanting to pay attention to those folks, but pay attention to their donors. I have a huge problem with that,” Bush said. She later added: “Sen. Sinema, Sen. Manchin come to my district and visit with my folks, come and talk to the people who actually live out what you’re trying to overlook. You don’t care, but we do, and I’m not going to quit talking about that.”
Timeline for a deal
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Friday that she’s “hopeful” there will be a vote on either the social safety net bill or the bipartisan infrastructure bill next week, and said that Democrats have agreed to more than 90% of what to put in the bill.
“We’ve been working on it, we’re narrowing and I’ve told you all. We are an exuberant party with many points of view. And we build our consensus. And we’ll get this done,” she said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the Democrats’ plan is to “aim” to vote on both the social safety net package and the infrastructure bill next week before surface transportation programs expire on October 31.
“The House will aim to consider the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act this work period” Hoyer said.
“I hope to bring both of those bills to the floor next week, if they’re ready,” he said.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer, Daniella Diaz, Annie Grayer, Ali Zaslav and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.