WASHINGTON — One side is buoyed by the prospect of the biggest expansion of government support since the New Deal nearly a century ago. The other is afraid of dramatically expanding Washington’s reach at an enormous cost.
They are all Democrats. Yet each side is taking a different approach to guiding the massive $3.5 trillion spending bill through Congress.
The party is again facing competing political priorities between its progressive and liberal wings. The House version of the bill drafted this week began a new phase of debate that could test whether Democrats can match their bold campaign rhetoric on everything from income inequality to climate change with actual legislation. Huh.
Any stumbling block could have dire consequences for the party’s prospects during next year’s midterm, when it tries to prevent Republicans from backing out of Congress. The finished product can alienate middlemen who say it goes too far, or frustrate those on the left who argue it’s too timid in the moment of great results.
“This is critically important for Democrats and their message in next year’s election,” said former New York Congressman Joe Crowley, a veteran Democrat who was upset in the 2018 primary by progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “We’re going to blink and we’re going to be in 2022.”
Crowley said the trillions of dollars the bill proposed was “just something I’ve never had to do in my 20 years”. “These are huge figures by any standard,” he said.
But, Crowley said, no matter the final price tag, “let’s not lose sight of the fact that it will be transformative.”
Republicans universally oppose the bill, with Democratic leaders taking a narrow path as they navigate an equally divided Senate and thin House majority.
Many Democrats agree on the goals included in the legislation, such as providing universal pre-kindergarten and tuition-free community college, while increasing federal funding for child care, paying family leave, and combating climate change. The party also aims to expand health care coverage through Medicare and create avenues for citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants in the country.
But there are differences of opinion on how much such a measure should cost and how it should be paid for.
Democratic Sens. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kirsten Cinema, who met privately with President Joe Biden on Wednesday, balked at a $3.5 trillion price tag.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have proposed a 26.5% top corporate tax rate to help cover costs. This falls short of Biden’s 28% target. But Manchin has insisted on reducing the corporate rate to less than 25%.
There is also division over how the levy should be imposed on the top earners. Biden has advocated restoring the top tax rate on capital gains to 39.6%. House Democrats, however, would tax such income, often generated by the wealthy, at 25%. They will also impose a 3% surcharge on personal income over $5 million.
Biden further supports higher taxes for those earning at least $400,000 annually, even though some progressives want to see a lower threshold for higher taxes to kick in.
“We’re not going to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. That’s a lot of money,” the president said on Thursday. “Some of my liberal friends are saying it should be less than that.”
Biden discussed the matter with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday, and the White House said they agreed “it’s only fair” that the spending bill should be paid by “the wealthiest Americans and older people.” by repealing the trump tax”. Corporation. “
The differences over tax limits are technical, but they represent a desire among many House Democratic leaders to protect their most vulnerable members in moderate districts from attacks on taxes and spending they support.
“Our friends of the progressive left guess what you do hardly matters, as long as it’s big,” said Will Marshall, president of the centrist Washington think tank Progressive Policy Institute. Instead, Democrats are so ideologically diverse that “people running competitive races may not accept the same views that people running in safe, blue Democratic districts do,” Marshall said.
Joseph Gevargis, executive director of the progressive activist group Our Revolution, said that “it would be incredibly problematic for the president to say, ‘Look, we won both houses of Congress. We won the White House. We couldn’t deliver better health care, we couldn’t’ Couldn’t deliver transformative change on the climate.'”
“It’s not explainable to the American people,” Gevargis said, “and I think there will be consequences.”
Democrats have been here before. The progressive versus liberal divide dominated the early stages of the party’s 2020 presidential primary, with Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders serving as the most prominent representatives from each end of the spectrum.
Sanders, an independent aligned with the Democrats, won an early victory. But the party eventually coalesced around Biden, fueled by an urgent desire to unite behind a candidate who could hold wide appeal and defeat then-President Donald Trump.
Biden has since kept the party united largely by adopting a number of top progressive priorities, such as spearheading the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in March and the now stalled proposal to raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. to support However, he has opposed some of the biggest progressive goals, including the universal health care proposal known as Medicare for All.
But it is not clear whether that balance can be maintained.
Already, Our Revolution and other progressive activists have protested outside the offices of moderates, including Munchkin. They have begun to refer to themselves as the “Tea Party of the left”, countering the “obstructive corporate democrats”.
Manchin is still adamant. “I have been very clear and very open” about the need to reduce the price tag of the budget bill, he said.
In the House, meanwhile, Democratic Florida Representative Stephanie Murphy, head of the liberal Blue Dog coalition, opposed parts of the spending package in committee, arguing that her party’s attempt to introduce it was too hasty. .
Progressives, however, have responded by playing their legislative hardball. Washington’s Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said the group is united behind a resolution not to support a separate bill that many moderate Democrats are more excited about — a $1 trillion, bipartisan public works measure. – Unless expenses bill advance.
“Joe Manchin definitely has the power. We want his vote. But really, let each one of us do it, because in the House (Democrats) there is a margin of three votes,” said Jayapal to progressive activists. Said on a conference call with. “Everyone here’s Joe Manchin.”
Sanders, who led the proposal as head of the Senate Budget Committee, pushing for spending plans by some progressives up to $6 trillion, says the current price tag is a sufficient compromise and does not accept further cuts. has vowed to do so. He says the tax hike on the wealthy may resonate with working-class voters from both parties.
Marshall noted that many voters on the battlefield actually appreciate the higher levy for the wealthy as a form of “tax fairness”, but that if the additional spending focuses more on social programs than economic incentives, it may support gets reduced.
“It needs to be tied to a plan to create good jobs, spur innovation and growth,” Marshall said, adding that many in swing districts have also expressed concerns about running up the federal debt and contributing to rising inflation. .
Still, he said, it would be even more costly for Democrats if the tussle over the budget proposal’s final price tag continues.
“I think Democrats will find a way to narrow their differences because they can’t afford to fail this president,” Marshall said. “The margins are just too narrow.”