Democrats scramble to fit priorities into budget bill

The collapse of plans to include climate and tax legislation in a bill Democrats can pass the Senate this summer with 51 votes has sparked a scramble among Democrats to squeeze other priorities into the package.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) Says she wants money for more COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, this which would cost at least $10 billion.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is pushing for money to fund international COVID-19 vaccination efforts, which are expected to cost an additional $5 billion.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to expand the wording of prescription drug reform to cover more drugs.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) continues to press for more money for affordable housing, which is becoming increasingly urgent due to rising mortgage and rent costs.

And Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a close Biden ally, continues to push for tens of billions of dollars to fund long-term health care for the elderly and disabled.

Competing priorities will collide over the next two weeks as Democrats make a final push to pass a budget reconciliation package before the August recess.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) intends to pass it early next month to avoid raising health care premiums, which is expected to start happening in mid-August.

In relaunching negotiations earlier this summer, Democrats had hoped the reconciliation package would include climate and tax provisions and were negotiating the components with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.). But Manchin earlier this month scuttled those hopes and said he would “unequivocally” only back a narrow package.

Schumer and Manchin agreed to offer a lean package that includes prescription drug reform and a two-year extension of the Affordable Care Act premium subsidies.

This package would generate a net total of between $240 billion and $260 billion in revenue.

The influx of new revenue is pushing Democratic senators to line up to fund their top priorities.

Murray said she would “love to see” the COVID-19 aid in the package.

“We have to deal with COVID,” she said. “We’re still going to have a push and we’re not ready.

“We know new variants are coming, we know we’re not prepared. We know we don’t have the vaccines, tests and everything we need. We need to put the funding in place,” she added.

Murray is eager to secure the funding in the reconciliation bill because Republicans say there is little chance of passing another COVID-19 package under regular order, even if Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney ( R-Utah) brokered a $10 billion compromise measure in March.

The political dynamic has since changed, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team.

“I don’t think so,” he said when asked about the prospect of getting 60 votes for any new coronavirus relief bill.

Manchin said he wanted about half of the money from the reconciliation package to be spent on deficit reduction, but that was a request he made as he and Schumer were still negotiating budget increases. taxes to pay for climate-related provisions.

He declined to say whether he could back more money for COVID-19 vaccines, therapies and testing in the reconciliation package on Thursday, telling The Hill: “No comment.”

Sanders is pushing to expand the prescription drug reform package to give Medicare more bargaining power to lower costs for a broader range of drugs.

The pending compromise legislation would allow Medicare to initially negotiate lower prices for 10 drugs and then expand its authority to 20 drugs. It would also end up capping consumer payouts at $2,000.

“The American people are extremely upset that we are paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, in some cases 10 times more. I think they want to see a bold move and we’ll see what we can do to make that happen,” he said.

Brown said he didn’t give up on getting more money for affordable housing, which was supposed to be a major part of Biden’s Build Back Better program until Manchin gradually reduced it to just housing reform. prescription drugs and a short-term extension of affordable care. Subsidies Act.

“We did a hearing on housing [Thursday.] I don’t know what the odds are, but I still wave for it,” he said.

Rising mortgage rates have made it increasingly difficult for middle and working class Americans to buy a home, and rental costs have risen steadily along with interest rates.

Brown pointed out at the Banking Committee hearing that recent cost increases have deprived about 4 million families of landlords and median rents topped $2,000 in May.

“We have underinvested in our homes and communities for decades. Now we see the consequences,” he said.

Manchin, however, hasn’t been shy about spending tens of billions on affordable housing, at least until now.

Casey, who represents a Senate battleground state that could determine whether Democrats retain a majority in the Senate, said he still wants to include money for long-term home health care.

Last year, Casey argued that Congress should spend at least $250 billion to help people stuck at home due to age, illness or disability, but now he’s looking for everything. that he can.

“There are several things I want, especially home and community services. There are certain possibilities, certain options that we could have that would not be the $150 billion that we had 50 votes for in December, but a version of that,” he said.

“I talked to Senator Schumer, Senator Manchin about it,” he added.

Casey said prescription drug reform would bring in about $300 billion, which could help fund his goals.

“Drop me hoping there’s an opening,” he said. “We will continue to work to see and it will be the first week of August where we deal with this.”

Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said he and his allies still held out hope that something, anything can be done to address climate change. .

“I know there are conversations going on but I don’t know if there is movement,” he said.

“For us, our priority, if there is to be additional spending, is the climate, the climate, the climate,” he added. “If that’s not going to be included, there’s a lot of other rooms. I know there’s housing, I know there’s COVID. There could be other things.

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