WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s new $1.75 trillion framework to rewrite the social contract was an attempt to break a months-long impasse and reach agreement with a narrow Democratic majority.
But the keys to unlocking that elusive deal may be in the missing parts of that proposal, as the party narrows its differences and sees growing optimism in all corners toward an eventual agreement.
For example, the framework made no mention of raising the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction — also known as “SALT” — that a group of House Democrats from New York and New Jersey demanded in the package.
“No salt, no deal! I’m confident it’s going to be part of the ultimate deal,” said Representative Tom Suzy of New York, who rallied his fellow lawmakers to try to make the issue a red line in the bill.
House Ways and Means Speaker Richard Neil, D-Mass., said Friday that “something is going to be done about SALT,” though he was excluded from the White House framework.
It’s not clear what exactly the policy is, but Democrats have discussed a two-year suspension of the $10,000 cap. That would cost about $156 billion, according to a January estimate by the Nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxes.
Biden’s framework also included expanding Medicare to cover hearing benefits for older adults — but not dental or vision benefits.
Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee who is conducting a pivotal vote in the 50-50 room, insisted that dental and vision benefits be covered as well, saying they are “non-negotiable.”
He described it as a good framework that “has some major gaps”.
“I’m glad we were able to get hearing aids, which are going to have a real impact on millions of older people in America. But I think we have to move forward with dentistry as well as eyeglasses,” Sanders said. .
But those benefits are expensive — especially dentistry — and Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va, said. He doesn’t want to expand Medicare without sorting out its long-term finances. Democrats have considered offering coupons to seniors for dental and vision services.
Sanders wants to cover the cost by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, which could save hundreds of billions of dollars, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
“Look, it’s really terrible that year after year, members of Congress talk about the high cost of prescription drugs, and yet, year after year, we can’t do anything about it,” he said. “So that’s the other issue.”
But this drug-negotiating policy was also left out of the White House framework amid resistance from a small group of House Democrats and Senator Kirsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, another indispensable vote that forced the party to scrap a number of tax revenue collectors. of the bill to gain its support.
Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wouldn’t support a package unless it included a drug-negotiation policy that provides meaningful drug cost relief.
“I will not accept this negotiation process as a fig leaf,” he told NBC News, noting that his party has repeatedly campaigned to lower drug prices. “Senate Democrats are well aware that there has been a commitment of years and years and years to change the law.”
Sinema is not the only question mark about drug policy.
Senator Bob Menendez, DNJ, a traditional ally of the drug industry that has a large footprint in his state, said he opposes House policy to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies. But he kept the door open to other options.
“I still wanted to find a way to go about dealing with the cost of prescription drugs, which I’ve been working with Chairman Wyden on,” he said Thursday on MSNBC. “So, I’m looking forward to seeing how we can get there. But at least this framework is an opportunity to get to the end goal.”
Aside from the SALT and Medicare changes, many Democrats are refusing to give up on including some forms of paid leave in the package after party leaders made the decision to abandon it earlier this week in response to Manchin’s concerns. Among them was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York, who sought to persuade the West Virginia senator to change his mind.
But unlike some other omissions, the addition of paid time off is an opportunity long after it has been pared down along with two years of free community college and a tax rate hike for the wealthy and corporations to make the billing account work.
Representative Judy Chu of California said on MSNBC that the paid leave exclusion was not “reconciled” but that it wouldn’t be a “deal breaker” for her, as the “bill is transformational.”
Biden’s framework includes $1.75 trillion in spending proposals and $1.995 trillion in revenue, creating some relief if not all taxes are agreed.
Menendez pointed to another unresolved issue of immigration.
Biden’s framework includes an asterisk of $100 billion — plus $1.75 trillion in spending — on the issue of immigration, without going into details.
But that faces serious obstacles.
The senator rejected two proposals from Democrats to create a path to permanent residence for millions of undocumented people, including young so-called “Dreamers” and essential workers, saying they did not abide by the rules of the budget process. Menendez said the party is working on a third option to give them legal status, which many Democrats enthusiastically want to implement.
“We are still far from that path because of the Senator, but we have a mission to take no answer,” he said.