Democrats Pelosi and Hoyer look to strike deal

(LR) House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speak to reporters at the White House on January 2, 2019 in Washington, DC .

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Democrats moved on Tuesday to finalize a deal to invest up to $2 trillion in social programs and climate policy, as they try to put an end to a month-long passing of their economic agenda.

After days of talks between House, Senate and White House officials, party leaders sounded more optimistic than ever about a deal. Top Democrats acknowledged few issues remain unresolved, which could falter the rush for a deal and vote in the coming days.

“Most of that has been negotiated, and most of it is ready to go,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the House’s second Democrat, told reporters on the bill. “And we’re just waiting for the last parts of the bill to be assembled. And hopefully in the next few hours, frankly.”

Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that 90% of safety net legislation is in writing. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said Monday that his party should resolve three or four outstanding issues, sounded optimistic about a deal.

“This week, Democrats continue to make important progress toward finalizing President Biden’s plan to rebuild better, and we remain confident that a final agreement is within reach,” he said on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

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Signing an agreement to invest in social programs and climate policy is critical for Democrats to advance their full economic agenda. House Progressives abstained from voting on the bipartisan trillion-dollar infrastructure bill until the party can make progress on the larger spending package, which Democrats plan to pass without Republicans through the budget compromise process.

House leaders could hold a vote on the infrastructure plan passed by the Senate as soon as this week — if the party strikes a social spending deal. Pelosi on Tuesday told House Democrats that the chamber will vote on the bipartisan bill only after Democrats’ plan is agreed upon, NBC News reported, citing three sources in the room.

To do so, Democrats will have to win over everyone from Senate centrists worried about increased spending to progressives who are willing to invest trillions of dollars more in social programs. Pelosi has repeatedly said she will only hold a House vote on a bill if it has enough support to pass it in the Senate.

Democrats cut spending from their $3.5 trillion budget scheme in order to appease centrists. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who supports the $1.5 trillion price tag, and Senator Kirsten Senema, a Democrat from Arizona, have pushed their party to cut the deal.

Lawmakers also sought alternative tools to offset spending after Sinema cut tax rate increases paid by companies and wealthier Americans. Options include a minimum tax of 15% on corporations and a tax on dividends and other assets levied on billionaires.

Some lawmakers have questioned whether the remaining revenue actions can raise enough money to pay for investments. Legislation from Tuesday was expected to include benefits such as expanding childcare, a one-year extension of the Enhanced Child Tax Credit, and pre-kindergarten, among others.

Democrats have changed or cut key parts of their proposal to cut the price. The party repealed provisions that would provide two years of free community colleges and encourage utility companies to switch to renewable energy.

Lawmakers have scaled back a proposal to offer paid leave for most Americans to four weeks of benefits instead of 12. Democrats have also faced resistance over a plan to expand Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing benefits.

Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, supported the Medicare proposal. He has also pushed to allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies, which Democrats hope will lower costs for consumers and save government money that they can funnel elsewhere.

“The bottom line is that any settlement bill must include serious negotiations by Medicare with the drug industry to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “This is what the American people want. A serious reconciliation bill should include expanding Medicare to cover dentists, hearing aids, and eyeglasses.”

Pelosi warned Democrats on Tuesday that they would have to accept the package cuts until any legislation passed, according to NBC. She asked members of the House of Representatives to “adopt” the programs to be included in the legislation.

She said the Democrats are “on the verge of something big — transformative, historic and bigger than anything else.”

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