WASHINGTON (AP) — It launched as the new president’s ambitious plan for rebuilding America — a $2.3 trillion domestic infrastructure investment coupled with a $1.8 trillion plan to bolster U.S. families with support for health care, child care, college costs, unseen in generations.
Totaling more than $4 trillion when President Joe Biden unveiled the American Jobs and American Rescue plans in spring, what the administration called the “Build Back Better” agenda was instantly compared to those of his Democratic predecessors, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.
And it was almost instantly shunned by Sen. Joe Manchin.
The conservative West Virginia Democrat said the proposals were too big, too costly, too much. As he engaged in negotiations, always the center of attention, the outcome was almost always reductive, cutting the size and scope of the package. His vote, in the even-split Senate, like those of every Democrat, would be needed for anything to pass.
This week, after more than 15 months of breathtaking political pivots, Manchin has reduced Biden’s big ideas for a sweeping investment to just two: Reducing the costs of prescription drugs and shoring up the subsidies some families receive to buy health insurance.
While Manchin and Biden had agreed on a smaller infrastructure bill that eventually became law, the investments the president sought for families and to tackle climate change remain deeply in flux. On Friday, citing the nation’s spiking inflation — as he did last year — Manchin wants another pause.
Here’s a look of what Biden envisioned when he declared America is “arising anew” with his proposals, and what remains within reach with Manchin.
LOWERING HEALTH CARE, DRUG COSTS
Manchin stunned Washington again this week when it was disclosed that he wanted to drastically reduce the scope of revived package he was negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Democrats are racing to prop up Biden’s signature domestic proposal ahead of the midterm elections, and narrowed on a $1 trillion package — far smaller than first envisioned and about half the size of the $2 trillion package that passed the House late last year before Manchin walked away from talks.
What Manchin would be willing to do now was two proposals: Reduce the price of prescription drugs by allowing the federal government to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies, while capping seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses to $2,000, and put the savings into subsidies that families are relying on to buy their own health care but that are about to expire.
Both are big Democratic priorities and would be consequential for Americans struggling to pay always high health care bills.
But compared to what could have been, they amount to about $300 billion.
WHAT BIDEN ENVISIONED FOR FAMILIES…
Biden’s American Families Plan envisioned a vast investment for the nation’s families.
The cornerstone an enhanced $300 monthly child tax credit, first approved during the pandemic, that for a time was sending extra cast straight into parents’ bank accounts. It substantially reduced poverty and boosted households during the crisis. Biden wanted to extend it.
There was free pre-kindergarten for all, a $200 billion preschool program for 3- and 4-year olds to provide early childhood education and to help working parents juggle child care. Also, a $225 billion national paid family leave program so people could take time off, paid up to $4,000 monthly, at pivotal junctures — births, deaths and to care for loved ones.
Biden wanted to also provide free community college and funds for housing and other basic needs.
Eventually versions of the plan included free dental and vision for seniors, a nod to a top priority from Biden’s one-time rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
…. AND WHAT BIDEN WANTED FOR CLIMATE
The centerpiece of Biden’s climate change agenda was a $150 billion clean energy plan that would have rewarded power providers that use clean sources and penalized those that don’t.
But that approach had to be scrapped when Manchin objected.
More recently Manchin and Schumer were in talks over a slimmed back package, about $375 billion, of tax incentives and credits that the administration had hoped could achieve similar goals in reducing carbon emissions.
But that, too, is now scrapped. Manchin, among the post powerful coal state senators, prefers a “fuel neutral” approach that doesn’t hurt his home state industry.
While Biden, Manchin and others had successfully negotiated the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law last year, it, too, fell short of the administration’s climate goals.
Rather than a massive $174 billion investment in electric vehicles and a network of charging stations, the bipartisan compromise provided $7.5 billion for electric vehicles with fewer charging stations, along with money for electric school buses.
To be sure, the bipartisan infrastructure bill Manchin signed on to with Biden and the others made substantial investments in roads, bridges, broadband — all areas where Congress typically can find some agreement.
Yet even that bill, a hard-fought compromise, is much smaller than the White House envisioned in many areas — it provided half as much, $55 billion, as the administration wanted for removing lead pipes.
IDEAS LONG GONE
Other Democratic priorities that rose and fell during more than a year of negotiations over Biden’s once sweeping vision are long gone.
Also no longer on the table are the tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations that Biden and his party envisioned, in different variations, to pay for his big plan.
Biden had proposed raising the tax rate on those earning more than $400,000 a year, $450,000 for couples, back to 39.6% where it was before the 2017 GOP tax cuts. He wanted to lift the corporate rate to 28%.
In talks Democrats considered other options — a corporate minimum tax or a tax on billionaires.
It wasn’t Manchin who necessarily stopped those options. In fact, he supported some. But another Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, had been a key hold out to many proposals for higher taxes.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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