Dem infighting heats up, increasingly divided over Biden economic agenda

After failing to gin up enough support to pass President Joe Biden’s economic packages last month, Democratic leaders are regrouping to map out a strategy moving forward, but they will have to navigate a number of internal divisions that are growing more intense.

The Hill reported Monday that congressional Dems will refocus on the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” measure now that the GOP helped them pass a temporary debt ceiling increase, giving the majority party time to move forward on that package.

“Senate Democrats will focus on passing [the] Build Back Better agenda so we can finally build up ladders of opportunity for people to climb up to the middle class, to help people already in the middle class stay there, to fight climate change and create the good-paying jobs of tomorrow and rekindle that sunny American optimism that has long been the core of our national identity,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the chamber floor Thursday evening.

But the issue remains the same for Democrats in the evenly divided Senate: All 50 members have to sign on to whatever package is ultimately negotiated, and for now, at least, two of them — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — are not on board with progressives who want the full amount. Also, there are some moderate Democrats in the House who are balking at the price tag.

“Democrats have disagreements on a wide variety of issues, ranging from the overall size of the package to the contours of the spending programs and tax cuts in the bill and to the revenue raisers that will be used to pay for the legislation,” The Hill reported, while going on to list five areas of contention: Prescription drugs; expansion of Medicare; renewable energy; the Hyde Amendment; and SALT — a cap on State And Local Tax.

On Prescription Drugs:

Three Democrats — Reps. Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), and Scott Peters (Calif.). — voted against a measure that would allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, which has long been a priority for the party and which is popular with most Americans. But they worry that the measure would harm pharmaceutical companies and lead to less innovation and as such support a plan that is not as extensive.

On Medicare Expansion:

Most Democrats, and especially progressives, want to expand the entitlement to cover dental, vision, and hearing, as well as shoring up Obamacare. But the cost is a hurdle. The vision and hearing coverages would begin in 2022 and 2023 respectively, but the dental would not kick in until 2028 and that’s a sticking point for progressives.

Centrists like Manchin, however, believe the focus ought to be on Obamacare, but not until Medicare’s finances are bolstered.

Green Energy:

“Many Democrats view the social package as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to spend big on combating climate change,” The Hill reported, adding that progressives are keen to phase out fossil fuels and make investments in renewables like solar and wind power.

But again, Manchin is the stickler: West Virginia is a top-six producer of clean-burning natural gas, and he wants any green energy initiative to include the element, which is opposed by progressives.

Hyde Amendment:

The provision most generally prohibits using federal funds for abortions, and Manchin supports its inclusion while the party’s left-wing does not. Biden has said he will support the bill whether the Hyde Amendment is included or not; during the campaign, he supported it but has since changed his mind.

SALT:

Most Democrats support changes to the law, which was last altered as part of then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax reform package.

“Many Democrats from high-tax states view changes to the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction as a must-have in the spending package,” The Hill reported, noting that Democrats from blue states say the current $10,000 limit hurts their high-earning residents.

But progressives don’t want the limit raised because they support higher taxes on the wealthy.

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