President Joe Biden has postponed his flight to meet the Pope so that he can stay in Washington DC several hours longer, and try and convince his own party to back his infrastructure bill.
Biden was due to fly to Rome early on Thursday, ahead of his Friday audience at the Vatican.
The president, a lifelong Catholic, has pushed his flight back by several hours to try and secure a deal. He is still expected to meet Pope Francis on Friday, and hold a meeting with Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
World leaders are gathering in Rome for the G20 meeting on the weekend. Biden will then travel to the UK for the UN climate summit in Glasgow on Monday and Tuesday.
His change in plans came after his flagship infrastructure bill appeared to be veering off course.
Joe Biden, seen on Monday in New Jersey on a visit to shore up support for his Build Back Better plan, on Wednesday night postponed his trip to Europe by several hours, to try and push Democrats to agree a deal. He will now fly out several hours later than scheduled on Thursday
The president on Wednesday night urged Democrats to wrap up talks and bring the social services and climate change bill ‘over the finish line’.
Critics within his own party accuse him of rushing the bill in a bid to have a new climate change policy to show off at the UN summit.
The strongest opposition has come from ‘The Squad’, with the progressive allies accusing Biden of selling out to Joe Manchin, the moderate senator for West Virginia, whose coal country constituents have pushed him to demand a watering down of renewable energy plans.
Another holdout senator, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has also demanded changes to the climate change provisions.
‘I am not going to sell out my district for a bill that was written by the fossil fuel industry and championed by two Dem senators who bow down to Big Pharma & corporate polluters,’ tweeted ‘Squad’ member Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman for Michigan.
Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman for Minnesota, on Wednesday night told of her frustration at ‘corporate lobbyists, billionaires, and coal company owners hellbent on screwing over the American people.’
She spelt out her complaint in a lengthy Twitter thread, saying: ‘Let’s have an honest accounting of what is really happening with these ever evolving negotiations.
‘First, instead of centering the needs of the American people, corporate Democrats have purely been about lining the pockets and serving the interests of the donor class.
‘If you really want to know why a provision is being killed, all you have to do is follow the money…’
Omar blamed lobbyists for pharmaceutical firms and energy companies for sabotaging the original plan.
‘It is corporate greed, and the lawmakers who serve them, who are betraying the values of our party and the American people,’ she said.
‘We did not come to Congress to watch our entire agenda get torpedoed by corporate lobbyists, billionaires, and coal company owners hellbent on screwing over the American people.
‘It’s time to bring to the floor a bill that prioritizes people over corporations.’
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another Squad member, representing New York, said that she was not prepared to back the bill without seeing the full text.
‘Details matter,’ she said.
‘A lot of people don’t know what the ‘bipartisan’ bill consists of (despite text) and why it’s critical that Build Back Better be paired with it.’
Ocasio-Cortez said that Congress needed to pass both Build Back Better (BBB), Biden’s all-encompassing infrastructure plan, in addition to BIF – Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, the deal struck between Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate in August.
She said BIF alone was not sufficient.
‘Take climate. There is a LOT of oil and gas lobbyist spin about BIF, but deal is it’s climate negative. One example: People will say ‘oh look at all this money in climate – like hydrogen energy!’
‘Well, not all hydrogen is the same. The H sources matter. There are 3 kinds: blue, green, and grey.
‘Green hydrogen is the good stuff: that hydrogen comes from water and helps us draw down emissions.
‘You know where Blue hydrogen comes from? Fracked gas. Blue hydrogen has worse emissions than coal, locks in more powerful climate destruction than what we’re doing now.
‘Blue is bad. (Grey too)
‘Guess which one bipar bill finances? Blue.’
Ocasio-Cortez explained: ‘So for those who like to call folks like me naïve, immature, or that ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’- some of us actually read the text while others get hustled by spin.
‘Details matter. On climate, they’re life+death. So to do my job, I need more than an IOU. Not too much to ask.’
Tempers flared late on Wednesday after a billionaires’ tax and a paid family leave program fell out of the Democrats’ sweeping bill, mostly to satisfy a pivotal senator in the 50-50 Senate.
But expanded health care programs, free pre-kindergarten and some $500 billion to tackle climate change remain in the mix in what’s now at least a $1.75 trillion package.
And Democrats are eyeing a new surcharge on the wealthy – 5% on incomes above $10 million and an additional 3% on those beyond $25 million – to help pay for it, a source told AP.
The administration was assessing the situation ‘hour by hour,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
It was a fast-moving day on Capitol Hill that started upbeat as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that Democrats were in ‘pretty good shape.’
But hopes quickly faded as Biden’s big proposal ran into stubborn new setbacks, chief among them how to pay for it all.
A just-proposed tax on billionaires could be scrapped after Manchin objected, according to a senior party aide.
The billionaires’ tax proposal had been designed to win over another Democratic holdout, Sinema – but Manchin panned it as unfairly targeting the wealthy, leaving Democrats at odds.
‘People in the stratosphere, rather than trying to penalize, we ought to be pleased that this country is able to produce the wealth,’ Manchin told reporters.
Manchin said he prefers a minimum 15% flat ‘patriotic tax’ to ensure the wealthiest Americans do not skip paying any taxes. Nevertheless, he said: ‘We need to move forward.’
Next to fall was a proposed paid family leave program that was already being chiseled back from 12 to four weeks to satisfy Manchin.
But with his objections, it was unlikely to be included in the bill, the person said.
Kirsten Gillibrand, a senator for New York, had devised several new options for Manchin’s review and told reporters late in the evening: ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’
She was seen on the senate floor on Wednesday, waiting for Manchin to arrive.
As soon as he entered the chamber, Gillibrand cornered him – with the help of Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono and Patty Murray, senator for Washington.
The trio could be seen deep in discussion with Manchin, trying to convince him to back their plan.
Together, Manchin’s and Sinema´s objections packed a one-two punch, throwing Biden’s overall plan into flux, halving what had been a $3.5 trillion package, and infuriating colleagues along the way.
In the evenly divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare.
White House officials met at the Capitol with Manchin and Sinema, two senators who now hold enormous power, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.
‘Making progress,’ Sinema said as she dashed into an elevator.
A Sunday deadline loomed for approving a smaller, bipartisan roads-and-bridges infrastructure bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire.
But that $1 trillion bill has been held up by progressive lawmakers who are refusing to give their support without the bigger Biden deal.
Despite a series of deadlines, Democrats have been unable to close the deal among themselves, and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose the package.
Democrats had hoped the unveiling of the billionaires tax Wednesday could help resolve the revenue side of the equation after Sinema rejected the party’s earlier idea of reversing Trump-era tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy, those earning more than $400,000.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, acknowledged on Wednesday that the rapid pace of the legislative process posed risks and said it would be preferable to ‘allow some of this very, very complicated tax policy to get an appropriate airing back and forth.’
Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The New York Times: ‘I don’t think anyone fully understands the implications of what’s being proposed.’
The new billionaires’ proposal would tax the gains of those with more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of more than $100 million over three consecutive years – fewer than 800 people – requiring them pay taxes on the gains of stocks and other tradeable assets, rather than waiting until holdings are sold.
The billionaires´ tax rate would align with the capital gains rate, now 23.8%.
Democrats have said it could raise $200 billion in revenue that could help fund Biden´s package over 10 years.
Republicans have derided the billionaires´ tax as ‘harebrained,’ and some have suggested it would face a legal challenge.
‘It’s really striking to me that the same Democrats who derided Republicans for supposedly rushing a partisan tax cut in 2017 are now teeing up massive tax hikes on a party-line vote, including an unvetted and likely unconstitutional wealth tax, on the sole argument that failure is not an option,’ said Brian McGuire, the former chief of staff for Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.
But Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, insisted the billionaires tax remains on the table.
‘I’ve not heard a single United States senator – not one – get up and say, `Gee, I think it´s just fun that billionaires pay little or nothing for years on end,´’ Wyden said.
More likely in the mix was the companion proposal, a new 15% corporate minimum tax, as well as the new surtax being proposed on higher incomes above $10 million.
Yet the American Council on Renewable Energy warned that the new 15 percent corporate minimum tax could actually undermine some existing clean energy incentives because companies would no longer get deductions for wear and tear on their properties, increasing their tax bills.
‘The predictable result will be increased costs and slower renewable energy deployment that works at direct cross-purposes with Congress’s decarbonization goal for the power sector,’ the group said in a statement.
The increases are designed to fulfill Biden´s desire for the wealthy and big business to pay their ‘fair share.’
They also fit his promise that no new taxes hit those earning less than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples.
Biden wants his package fully paid for without piling on debt.
Resolving the revenue side has been crucial, as lawmakers figure out how much money will be available to spend on the new health, child care and climate change programs in Biden’s big plan.
Among Democrats, Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said he told Wyden the billionaires’ tax may be difficult to implement.
Despite Sinema’s opposition, he expects Democrats to stick with the approach his panel took in simply raising rates on corporations and the wealthy, undoing the 2017 tax cuts.
‘There´s a lot of there´s a lot of angst in there over the billionaires’ tax,’ Neal said.
Under the House bill approved by Neal´s panel, the top individual income tax rate would rise from 37% to 39.6%, on those earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples. The corporate rate would increase from 21% to 26.5%.
The House bill also proposes a 3% surtax on the wealthiest Americans with adjusted income beyond $5 million a year, and Neal suggested that could be raised to $10 million to win over the holdouts.
Opposition from the two senators is forcing difficult reductions, if not the outright elimination, of policy priorities – from child care assistance to dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors.
Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, said it was not yet time to throw in the towel.
‘You got 48 out of 50 people supporting an agenda that works for the American people,’ he said.