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Dems Strain to Finish Biden's $2T Bill 12/04 08:45

   If President Joe Biden's $2 trillion social and environment package was a 
Broadway show, its seven months on Congress' stage could qualify it as a hit. 
But lawmaking isn't show business, and many Democrats worry that with the 
curtain falling soon on 2021, time is not their friend.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- If President Joe Biden's $2 trillion social and 
environment package was a Broadway show, its seven months on Congress' stage 
could qualify it as a hit. But lawmaking isn't show business, and many 
Democrats worry that with the curtain falling soon on 2021, time is not their 

   Each passing day threatens to push final action into 2022, an election year 
when control of Congress will be at stake and lawmakers will become ever more 
wary of casting tough votes.

   Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to end his party's 
disagreements and finally squeeze the bill through his chamber before 
Christmas. Indeed, holiday deadlines are a time-tested way of prodding 
lawmakers to solve disputes so they can go home. And momentum toward approving 
Biden's top domestic initiative -- the House passed an initial version last 
month -- seems to make prospects strong.

   Yet while Schumer and other Democrats express confidence that his target 
date will be met, some are anxious it won't and are concerned about damaging 

   The New York senator needs time to work out final compromises with resistant 
party moderates including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Also chewing up the 
calendar will be tedious but crucial rules sessions with the Senate 
parliamentarian, plus work on major bills on defense policy and extending the 
government's borrowing authority to avoid a federal default.

   The longer it takes to finish the $2 trillion package, the longer it can be 
vulnerable to factors -- predictable and unforeseen, economic and political -- 
that might complicate Schumer's task.

   "You let things sit around here, particularly past a Christmas vacation and 
into an election year, and that is toxic," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., 
a leader of her party's progressives.

   Facing unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats will need all their votes 
in the 50--50 Senate. They'll also need all but three in the House, which will 
need to pass the bill again with Senate revisions before sending it to Biden.

   "Everybody knows we can't walk away from this. We've got to do it and we've 
got to do it as quickly as we can," said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. He 
pointedly added, "There are different definitions of 'as quickly as we can' 
from different people."

   Democrats are frustrated that each week they spend battling with each other 
reduces the time they'll have to sell the legislation's initiatives to voters. 
The package includes free preschool, new Medicare hearing benefits and steps to 
curb climate change, paid for largely with tax boosts on wealthy people and big 

   "We should be finishing this up so we can go start talking to people about 
what's in it, instead of having everybody sort of focused on our navel gazing," 
said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

   Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have already forced cuts in the 
legislation, which not too long ago had a $3.5 trillion price tag. Neither has 
promised to heed Schumer's Christmas timetable, and Manchin hasn't dropped his 
insistence on removing a new paid family-leave program and provisions 
encouraging cleaner energy.

   "I haven't committed to anything, I haven't committed to a thing to anybody, 
to any human being," Manchin said this week about the bill.

   And Democrats' marathon talks over the measure are giving Republicans time 
to use the country's bout with rising inflation, which is showing no signs of 
going away, as one of their chief weapons against it. The GOP argues that the 
$2 trillion bill would push prices higher by incentivizing a shift to cleaner 
fuels, and flushing more cash into an already overheated economy.

   Democrats say the package's spending and tax credits for health services, 
child care and education will help families with tight budgets cope with 
inflation. But the GOP is using rising gasoline and home heating costs, which 
many voters encounter daily, to help make their argument. Republicans think 
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's testimony to Congress that inflation 
no longer seems due to "transitory" causes like the pandemic shows their 
argument will have political staying power.

   "Time is definitely on the side that doesn't want this to pass," Sen. Roy 
Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said this week.

   Manchin has cited inflation fears as a rationale for slowing work on the 
bill and paring it, and he will no doubt be watching the government's next 
measurement of consumer prices, due Dec. 10. His continued insistence on 
changes despite months of negotiation is rankling colleagues.

   "I mean, God bless Joe Manchin, but how many months is this going on?" said 
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois. "I mean, I told him 
a month ago, 'For God's sake, Joe, declare victory and close the deal.'"

   Further incentive for Democrats to finish the legislation this month is the 
Dec. 31 expiration of parts of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that 
Congress approved in March.

   That includes a larger children's tax credit and monthly payments of those 
benefits to millions of families, which would end unless lawmakers renew it. 
Congress could revive the credit retroactively next year, but many lawmakers 
want to avoid any interruption.

   Democrats still must solve other disagreements, including over how to let 
people deduct more state and local taxes without making the provision a 
giveaway to the richest Americans. And there are other factors running out the 

   Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough needs time to decide whether any 
of the bill's sections must be dropped because they violate the chamber's 
special rules for budget legislation. A Democratic plan to help millions of 
immigrants remain in the U.S. is in the balance, and the process is tedious, 
with lots of back and forth between Senate aides and MacDonough.

   "We've been talking about this and working on this for months," said Sen. 
Tina Smith, D-Minn. "And so let's just get it done."

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