By LISA MASCARO, AAMER MADHANI and ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday Democrats were “in fairly good shape” on President Joe Biden’s broad national plan, but hopes for a breakthrough quickly faded when a pivotal Democratic senator swept aside a new billionaires tax to help pay for the $ 1.75 trillion package.
Biden and Democrats are rushing to wrap up talks ahead of the president’s departure this week for global summits abroad. In addition to lobbying important party priorities, he hopes to show foreign leaders that the United States is getting things done under his new administration.
A signature package of proposals in the balance, the president could however go to Capitol Hill before going abroad Thursday. The administration is assessing the situation “hour by hour,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“We are now on the right track to move forward once we get a deal,” Psaki said.
But Biden’s grand proposition for social services and climate change programs has met with stubborn new setbacks, including how to pay for it all.
A newly proposed tax on billionaires could be removed after opposition from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, according to a senior party official, who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.
The billionaires’ tax proposal was designed to win over another Democratic opponent, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but Manchin criticized it for unfairly targeting the wealthy, leaving Democrats at odds.
“The people in the stratosphere, rather than trying to penalize, we should rejoice that this country is able to produce wealth,” Manchin told reporters.
Manchin has said he prefers a flat-rate “patriotic tax” of at least 15% to ensure that the richest Americans do not refrain from paying taxes.
Nonetheless, he said: “We have to move forward.”
White House officials met on Capitol Hill with Manchin and Sinema, two senators who now wield tremendous power, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on key Democrats’ campaign promises.
In the 50-50 Senate, Biden needs the support of all the voiceless Democrats to spare.
âI’m making progress,â Sinema said, rushing into an elevator.
The accelerating pace of negotiations came as Biden pushed for a deal ahead of the world summits. There is also a Sunday deadline to approve a smaller, bipartisan road and bridge infrastructure bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire. But this $ 1,000 billion bill has been blocked by progressive lawmakers who refuse to give their support without the biggest Biden deal.
Lobbying, Pelosi announced a committee hearing on Thursday to push the Biden package towards a plenary assembly. But without Senate approval, the House panel meeting is just an effort to get the process started.
Democrats were hoping that the billionaire tax unveiling on Wednesday might help solve the revenue side of the equation after Sinema rejected the party’s earlier idea to reverse Trump-era tax breaks on businesses and the rich, those who earn more than $ 400,000.
The new billionaires’ proposal would tax the earnings of those with more than $ 1 billion in assets or incomes of more than $ 100 million over three consecutive years.
It would hit the wealthiest Americans, under 800, starting in tax year 2022, forcing them to pay taxes on earnings from stocks and other marketable assets, rather than wait for the holdings to sell.
A similar tax for billionaires would be applied to non-marketable assets, including real estate, but it would be deferred with unassessed tax until the asset is sold, although interest would have to be paid.
Overall, the billionaire tax rate would align with the capital gains rate, now 23.8%. Democrats have said it could generate $ 200 billion in revenue that could help fund Biden’s 10-year program.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the billionaire tax remains on the table.
“I haven’t heard a single US senator – not one – stand up and say, ‘I think it’s just funny that billionaires pay little or nothing for years,'” Wyden said Wednesday.
Overall, the new billionaires’ proposal, coupled with a new 15% minimum corporate tax, is designed to meet Biden’s desire that the rich and big corporations pay their “fair share.” They also match his promise that no new taxes hit those earning less than $ 400,000 a year, or $ 450,000 for couples. Biden wants his package paid for in full without going into debt.
“I’ve been talking about this for years,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Who campaigned for the presidency on a wealth tax, and supports Wyden’s approach. “I even made billionaires cry about it.”
Solving the income side has been crucial, as lawmakers determine how much money will be available to spend on new health, childcare and climate change programs in Biden’s grand plan.
Republicans ridiculed the billionaire tax as “insane” and some suggested it would face a legal challenge.
Among Democrats, Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he told Wyden that the billionaire tax could be difficult to implement. He expects Democrats to stick with the approach taken by his panel of simply raising corporate and wealthy rates, reversing the 2017 tax cuts.
âThere is a lot of angst in there about the billionaire tax,â Neal said.
Under the House bill approved by Neal’s panel, the top tax rate would drop from 37% to 39.6% for those earning more than $ 400,000 per year, or $ 450,000 for couples. The corporate rate would drop from 21% to 26.5%.
The House bill also proposes a 3% surtax on the richest Americans with adjusted income above $ 5 million a year, and Neal has suggested that this could be increased to $ 10 million to defeat the recalcitrant.
Together, Manchin and Sinema’s objections punched in, upsetting Biden’s overall plan, halving what had been a $ 3.5 trillion package and infuriating his colleagues along the way.
Their opposition forces difficult cuts, if not outright elimination, of policy priorities – from childcare support to dental, vision and hearing benefits for the elderly.
Once cumbersome climate change strategies are less harsh, focusing away from punitive measures against polluters who have raised objections from the Manchin coal state, in favor of incentives to reward clean energy.
A family leave program, once thought of as 12 weeks paid leave to care for loved ones, is now offered as the only parental leave for new children.
Spirits are running out as fellow Democrats tire of Manchin and Sinema’s repeated objections to blocking a deal.
Senator Bernie Sanders, of the Vermont Independent, said: “You have 48 out of 50 people supporting a program that works for the American people.”
Associated Press editors Farnoush Amiri and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.