WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is scaling back his ambitious domestic agenda, describing a more limited vision of his $2 trillion package to Democratic lawmakers, addressing climate change and expanding social services.
Likely to be eliminated or shaved back: plans for tuition-free community colleges, a path to permanent legal status for certain immigrants in the U.S. and a clean energy plan that was the centerpiece of Biden’s strategy for fighting climate change.
The president met privately Tuesday with nearly 20 centrist and progressive lawmakers in separate groups as Democrats appeared ready to abandon what had been a loftier $3.5 trillion package in favor of a smaller, more workable proposal that can unite the party and win passage in the closely divided Congress.
Child tax credits, paid family leave, health care and free pre-kindergarten are still in the mix, according to details shared by those familiar with the conversation and granted anonymity to discuss the private meetings.
“How can we compete in the world if millions of American parents, especially moms, can’t be part of the workforce because they can’t afford the cost of child care or eldercare?” Biden said at an event promoting his plan last week.
Biden felt “more confident” after the day of meetings, said press secretary Jen Psaki. “There was broad agreement that there is urgency in moving forward over the next several days and that the window for finalizing a package is closing,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks — we’re going to get it done,” Biden declared to reporters earlier this month.
Facing unanimous Republican opposition and paper-thin congressional majorities, Democrats will need near unanimity to succeed.
A key holdout on Biden’s proposals, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin from coal-state West Virginia, has made clear he opposes the president’s initial Clean Energy Performance Plan, which would have the government impose penalties on electric utilities that fail to meet clean energy benchmarks and provide financial rewards to those that do — in line with Biden’s goal of achieving 80% “clean electricity” by 2030.
For months, Manchin and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have objected to the scope and scale of Biden’s package, testing the patience of colleagues who see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape government programs. Sinema missed the senators’ lunch, but had a separate meeting with Biden.
With Republicans fully opposed to Biden’s plans, the president needs all Democrats in the 50-50 split Senate for passage and can only spare a few votes in the House. Republican criticism of Biden has mounted as inflation eats into working pay, creating a drag on growth.
Republicans say Democrats need to quit fighting among themselves and work with the GOP.
“I wish they’d negotiate with Republicans in the House,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“They just have an insatiable appetite to raise taxes and spend more money. It would kill jobs, it would hit middle class families … It makes absolutely no sense,” he said.
Congress has set an Oct. 31 deadline for passage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.