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Democrats are trimming the Build Back Better agenda to $1.9 trillion. What’s in, out, and still in play

October 20, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats met Tuesday to work on winnowing down the initial $3.5 trillion budget to a spending plan between $1.9 trillion and $2.2 trillion. 

The meetings come after senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have firmly refused to support the $3.5 trillion price tag. With Democrats facing only a slim majority in the House and Senate and no Republican support for Biden’s agenda, leaders are forced to get every Democrat on board in order to pass this legislative package. 

Manchin has consistently said since summer he’ll support a $1.5 trillion bill. Sources told Punchbowl News that a “realistic target” for the reconciliation package is probably somewhere in the $1.75 trillion to $1.95 trillion range.

But cutting the bill in half means that not all of the president’s agenda will make the final cut and that many programs will have to be significantly trimmed. Here’s where many of the popular proposals stand as of Tuesday night. 

Free community college: Out. Biden said last week that his plan to provide two years of free community college was on the chopping block. However, a proposed Pell Grant expansion is still in play. 

Carbon tax: Out. At this point, no one believes this will be in the final bill.

State and local tax deductions: Out, according to Washington Post’s Jeff Stein. Several lawmakers called for the so-called SALT deductions to be reinstated as part of the Build Back Better package. These deductions had been cut under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Universal pre-K: In. The plan still calls for free pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, a program the White House has said will benefit 5 million children.

Child tax credit: In, but reduced. The latest discussions call for extending the child tax credit for another year or two (not the permanent expansion some progressive Democrats have called for and less than the four-year plan Biden called for). And while Manchin has toyed with the idea of including a means test, so far that’s not on the table and the credit would be fully refundable

Home health care: In, but reduced. CNN’s Manu Raju reports the latest talks have $250 billion set aside for home- and community-based services. Previously, Biden had called for $400 billion in spending to help meet these long-term health needs

Housing assistance: In, but reduced. So far, there seems to be $200 billion allocated for public housing. Democrats initially proposed spending $330 billion for a wide range of housing assistance programs, including down payment assistance, public housing vouchers, and new construction funding. 

Paid leave: In, but reduced. Under the latest proposal, Americans would have access to up to four weeks of paid family leave, although it would be phased out for Americans earning over $100,000. This is substantially less than the originally proposed 12 weeks, but plans around paid leave are “fluid,” one source familiar with the talks told Punchbowl. 

Child care: Unclear. Child care funding seems to still be in play, but a specific funding amount remains to be seen. House Democrats previously proposed setting aside $90 billion in federal funding to help families with children under the age of 5 pay for child care so that most families would spend less than 7% of their total income on this expense.

Climate proposals: Unclear. Biden has called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, but the programs designed to accomplish this are still in flux. Politico reports that the $150 billion Clean Energy Performance Program, which would incentivize utilities to increase clean electricity, is also likely out. That said, if Biden’s blocked legislatively, he may try to push through his agenda using administrative action. 

Medicare expansion: Unclear. This is a huge sticking point between progressives like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who support the expansion, and Manchin, who opposes it. Reports note that there have been discussions of a “pilot program” in which seniors would receive assistance to cover dental costs, but it’s unclear if this would also cover hearing and vision as well.

With some momentum coming out of Tuesday’s meetings, Democrats are looking to find a compromise before the end of the month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set an Oct. 31 deadline to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but progressive Democrats have said they will not vote on infrastructure until there’s an agreement on the reconciliation budget plan. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he’s committed to voting on both the infrastructure bill and a reconciliation package by the end of the month, according to NPR.

“I do feel like we’re getting closer. I think we’re all working really hard to try to get this done,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Tuesday.

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