The Sausage Making: Biden Doesn’t Mince His Words

SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 20: President Joe Biden speaks at an event. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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October 22, 2021 4:54 p.m.

Congress is back in session, but we’re continuing what began as a recess-time series of evening briefings on the reconciliation negotiations. Check in here to find out how the sausage-making is going. 

President Joe Biden did not hold back in telling the audience exactly who is to blame for foiling various parts of his reconciliation plan during a Thursday night CNN town hall. He sweetened the finger-pointing with compliments — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is “a friend,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is “smart as the devil” — but name-checked them repeatedly for blocking parts of the bill. 

“Where she’s not supportive is, she says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period,” Biden said of Sinema in one illustrative exchange. “And so that’s where it sort of breaks down.”

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He was extremely candid about proposals he was unable to get done, like 12 weeks of paid family leave (now it’s down to four) and two years of free community college. He made it sound like Medicare expansions to cover dental, hearing and vision are basically out of the package. 

He also made some major reconciliation-adjacent news, describing himself as “open to fundamentally altering” the filibuster, and later adding that he may be amenable to something more drastic than just a carveout for voting-related legislation. In his initial reluctance to broach the topic, he said that he was worried about alienating votes for his economic agenda. 

Timeline Updates 

  • As of now, votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package are scheduled in the House for next week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said in guidance to members that he “aims” to take up the bills then. 
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did not confirm to reporters that the vote would definitely happen, but said that “more than 90 percent of everything is agreed to.”
  • That would be in line with one of Democrats’ fairly soft deadline for the package: October 31, when the highway extension expires. It would also give Biden (depending on what ends up being in the package) some climate policies to tout as he heads off to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. 

New Ideas 

  • Some Senate Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to make the child tax credit permanently fully refundable, along with trying to extend it as long as possible. Get some insight into these negotiations — where Manchin is the unsurprising obstacle — here.
  • A new revenue stream is emerging: a billionaire’s tax. Senators like Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have been talking about it a lot lately, and the Washington Post has a new report out that senators are coalescing behind it. Be skeptical; Sinema has still not given it her support, and she’s proven herself to be against raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations so far. 
  • In lieu of free community college, Biden said Thursday that senators might want to beef up Pell Grants to help those with great financial need afford tuition. 
  • Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) gave reporters a list of possible climate alternatives to plug the Clean Electricity Performance Program-shaped hole: an industrial cap and trade strategy, greater investments in transmission, programs to spur innovation on the state level or curtailing emissions from big industrial polluters, such as cement plants. 
  • Key quote: “The only thing that would come close to that is a price on carbon,” Smith told TPM of the CEPP. “Other options can make a big difference, but it would take more than one of them.”
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