Joe Biden has arrived in Rome ahead of the G20 summit this weekend, flying out late Thursday after delaying his flight due to wrangling on Capitol Hill over his $1.75trillion health and social care spending package.
The President landed in the early hours of Friday morning alongside wife Jill, ahead of a meeting with Pope Francis before world leaders sit down for two days of negotiations due to begin on Saturday.
Biden, whose appeal with the American public is fast wearing off, is hoping to use the G20 to repair his reputation with world leaders after his shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan frustrated allies and drew unfavourable comparisons with predecessor Donald Trump.
It will be his first face-to-face meeting with many other world leaders since the crisis. The last in-person meeting came at the G7 in Cornwall in June. He has met some allies since then, including Boris Johnson who visited the White House in September. Some of those in the expanded G20 he will not have seen since the Covid pandemic.
Aside from Afghanistan, the agenda for the meeting is set to include Covid vaccines and global access to healthcare, the economic recovery from the pandemic and wealth inequalities, climate change, and trade.
But before the negotiations begin, Biden – one of the world’s most-prominent Roman Catholics – will meet with the head of the church, Pope Francis, in a closed-door meeting at the Vatican.
As congressional leaders work to nail down a vote on his landmark Build Back Better agenda, President Biden and First Lady Jill touched down in Rome at 2:30 am local time
The president will meet with Pope Francis and leaders from Italy and France on Friday
The president had said he hoped to have a deal in hand before he showed up to the UN climate conference
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the revised plan reflected the ‘normal procedure’ established during the coronavirus pandemic for all visiting heads of state or government.
Biden will then meet with his Italian counterparts, including President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Biden will also convene with French President Emanuel Macron on Friday, their first face-to-face meeting since the AUKUS submarine deal between the US, UK and Australia that roiled the French.
Over the weekend, Biden will attend G-20 events to discuss the international economy and international issues. He will likely hold meetings with other world leaders to discuss supply chain issues, energy prices and the Iranian nuclear program, according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
They are also likely to discuss implementation of the global minimum tax, which G7 finance ministers worked out back in June. Earlier this month, 136 countries agreed to set up a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15%, to be imposed by 2023.
The president will then head to Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26, a United Nations climate summit, where he’ll likely face questions about his Build Back Better plan and its climate provisions. The framework of the $1.75T social and climate bill now includes $500 billion in climate provisions.
The president had said he hoped to have a deal in hand before he showed up to the UN climate conference, but White House officials played down the need to have an actual vote by that time, arguing that world leaders would understand the legislation was in its home stretch.
‘I don’t think that world leaders will look at this as a binary issue. Is it done? Is it not done? They’ll say: Is President Biden on track to deliver on what he said? He’s going to deliver and we believe one way or the other he will be on track to do that,’ Sullivan said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to ditch plans to hold a House vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Thursday evening after a group of House progressive Democrats refused to back the legislation that is a priority for President Biden.
Pelosi had had told lawmakers to prepare for a possible vote, and amid tense negotiations with progressives, who are demanding to read the fine print of Biden’s new ‘framework’ for his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan – as well as get further assurances that it can pass the Senate.
‘These two bills need to go together,’ said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, leader of the House progressive Caucus.
Instead, House leaders scheduled a bill to extend expiring transportation funding – which had been an impetus for acting on infrastructure – as the last vote of the week.
Pelosi punted after Biden gave one more speech selling his pared back Build Back Better plan Thursday shortly before his scheduled trip to Europe – touting the virtue of compromise and calling a new framework ‘historic.’
Biden had hoped to have a win in hand by the time he landed. Instead, he has the same ‘framework’ he pitched to lawmakers. It includes more than $500 billion in climate programs he can tout in a meeting with the Pope and in climate meetings in Scotland – but like the infrastructure bill, they will not have become law.
Even with no deal in hand, there were developments for Biden to cling to. Jayapal on CNN pointed to the ‘overwhelming endorsement’ her caucus gave to Biden’s slimmed-back framework. She called it ‘really significant’ because ‘there are many things in there that we did not get.’
In his remarks before leaving the country, Biden did not say for certain he had a deal that could clear Congress – and spent much of his more than 20 minute speech selling components of the framework that did not yet have a clear path to enactment.
‘After months of tough and thoughtful negotiations I think we have an historic – I know we have – an historic economic framework,’ Biden told reporters from the East Room of the White House after delaying his planned departure for Rome.
‘We spent hours and hours over months and months working on this,’ he said. ‘No one got everything they wanted, included me.’
It was a reference to major policy provisions he had to jettison to try to keep costs under a lower ceiling amid centrist opposition in the Senate.
He did not say the plan has the support of a pair of key Senate Democratic holdouts – and at the end of his remarks he ignored questions about Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two lawmakers who hold the fate of the package in their hands.
‘I’ll see you in Italy and in Scotland. Thank you,’ Biden told reporters, without taking questions.
Biden pointed to the compromises Democrats have sought to make to reach a deal – without yet finding something that 50 Senate Democrats have committed to backing, let along the House majority.
‘I know deeply people feel about the things that they fight for. But this framework includes historic investments in our nation and our people,’ Biden said.
Without a victory in hand, Biden nevertheless crowed about the framework, and gave a defense of compromising after holding countless meetings with factions and leaders.
‘I want to thank my colleagues in the Congress and the leadership. We spent hours and hours and hours over months and months working on this,’ he said. ‘No one got everything they wanted, including me. But that’s what compromise is. That’s consensus. That’s what I ran on.’
Biden spoke to House Democrats and pitched his plan at the White House before boarding Air Force One. He is set to meet Pope Francis on Friday
WHAT’S IN JOE BIDEN’S LATEST BUILD BACK BETTER FRAMEWORK?
Investments in Children, Families and Caregiving that Grow the Economy’s Capacity
• Universal Preschool for all 3- and 4-year Olds: Expand access to free high-quality preschool for more than 6 million children
• Limit child care costs for families to no more than 7% of income
• Strengthening an existing program through Medicaid for eldercare and the disabled
• Extend for one year the current expanded Child Tax Credit for more than 35 million American households, with monthly payments for households earning up to $150,000 per year
• Clean Energy Tax Credits ($320 billion) for utility-scale and residential clean energy, transmission and storage, clean passenger and commercial vehicles, and clean energy manufacturing
• Investments and incentives to address extreme weather (wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes, including in forestry, wetlands, and agriculture), legacy pollution in communities, and a Civilian Climate Corps.
• Investments and Incentives for Clean Energy Technology, Manufacturing, and Supply Chains
• Affordable Care Act Premium Tax Credits: Extend the expanded Affordable Care Act premium tax credits through 2025.
• Allow Medicare to cover the cost of hearing.
Bringing Down Costs, Reducing Inflationary Pressures, and Strengthening the Middle Class
• $150 billion investment in housing affordability and reducing price pressures, including in rural areas.
• Raise the maximum Pell grant, providing support to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (‘HBCUs’) and similar institutions
• Earned Income Tax Credit for 17 Million Low-Wage Workers: Extend for one year the current expanded Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers.
• Stop Profitable Corporations from Paying Zero in Tax
• Tax on stock buybacks by corporations
• 15% Corporate Minimum Tax on Large Corporations
• 1% Surcharge on Corporate Stock Buybacks
• Global Minimum Tax: Consistent with OECD and with appropriate effective date for 15%, Country-by-Country
• Penalty Rate for Foreign Corporations Based in Non-Compliant Countries (i.e. Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax)
• New Surtax on Multi-Millionaires and Billionaires with 5% surtax on income of more than $10 million
• Close Medicare Self-Employment Tax Loophole by Strengthening the Net Investment Income
• Investments to boost IRS Enforcement with focus on the wealthy
And what got cut …
• Paid family leave
• Two years of free community college
• Medicare being able to negotiate prescription drug prices
• Vision care via Medicare
• Dental care via Medicare
‘I’ve long said compromise and consensus are the only way you get big things done in a democracy. Important things done for the country. I know it’s hard. I know deeply people feel about the things that they fight for. But this framework includes historic investments in our nation and in our people,’ said Biden.
In his remarks, Biden also pointed to his own 2020 victory, where he pitched many of the ideas in the package, including funds for child care, climate change, and help for families with aging parents or young children.
‘I campaigned on them. And the American people spoke. This agenda, the agenda that’s in these bills, is what 81 million Americans voted for,’ Biden said. ‘Their voices deserve to be heard, not denied, or worse ignored.’
Without action ‘we risk losing our edge as a nation,’ Biden said.
‘This is about competitiveness versus complacency. It’s about leading the world or letting the world pass us by.’
He pointed out key provisions, including: an expanded child tax credit for families; funds for 500,000 electric vehicle charge stations; funds to cap oil leaks and methane wells; aide for people with elderly parents; pre-K funding; and tax provisions to target the wealthy.
‘All I’m asking is pay your fair share. Pay your fair share. Pay your fair share,’ he said.
Biden repeated past statements that the package won’t add to the deficit – after negotiators scrambled to assemble a series of new pay-fors, including some that emerged only in recent days.
‘It will not add to the deficit at all. It will react to reduce the deficit, according to the economists,’ Biden said.
Biden cited ’17 Nobel prize winners in economics said it will lower the inflationary pressures on the economy.’
‘Ive said before these plans are fiscally responsible. They’re fully paid for. They don’t add a single penny to the deficit. They don’t raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.’
The bill includes nearly $2 trillion in revenue raisers, and assumes $400 billion in savings from beefed up IRS enforcement alone. One new tax provision would provide a 5 per cent surtax on income of more than $10 million.
According to the White House the revenue-raising provisions would cancel out the new social spending and climate programs. The framework does not yet have bill language – and congressional scorekeepers cannot provide an estimate until that happens.
Biden’s praise for the Build Back Better package came as a separate bipartisan infrastructure deal was also under threat.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her lieutenants to prepare for a floor vote Thursday. But without assurances on the social programs in the reconciliation bill, progressives appeared willing to bolt.
‘Hell no on BIF’ – the infrastructure bill – said Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, as a number of fellow progressives indicated they wouldn’t vote for it.
But amid the drama House progressives backed a resolution saying they supported the social spending framework, said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the head of the House Progressive Caucus. That indicated the group’s main concern was with sequencing the framework with the infrastructure bill – after raising fears it could get torpedoed after they vote for the bipartisan bill.
The House Rules Committee was set to meet on a procedure for the bill, just hours after the nearly 2,500-page bill text was posted on the committee web site.
Amid uncertainty about where Manchin and Sinema would line up – and their own vague statements – Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a close Biden confidant, told CNN they were on board.
‘This is a framework that they can work with,’ Coons said. He added that he had just met with them.
‘Everybody’s on board,’ Biden said as he arrived on Capitol Hill, after delaying his departure to Rome by several hours.
But it was not clear Thursday that his assessment was accurate. Two key Democratic holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, had yet to register their support for the new framework he released.
Sinema released a statement saying negotiators had made ‘significant progress’ and that she ‘looks forward’ to getting things done – but did not say she would vote for it or mention the specifics of the deal.
‘After months of productive, good-faith negotiations with President Biden and the White House, we have made significant progress on the proposed budget reconciliation package,’ she said in the statement. ‘I look forward to getting this done, expanding economic opportunities and helping everyday families get ahead.’
Progressives, who were already sore over social programs that got tossed out of the bill, had yet to say they would go along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s audacious play to try to hold a vote on a separate infrastructure package Thursday.
At a closed meeting with the House Democratic Caucus, Biden went well beyond a policy pitch – putting the need for agreement in terms of political survival.
He said he didn’t think it was hyperbole to say that what happens in the next week could determine control of the House and Senate, as well as his presidency, Bloomberg News reported.
Manchin also held back. He told reporters that ‘this is all int he hands of the House right now. I’ve worked in good faith and I look forward to continuing to work in good faith and that is all I have to say today.’
He did not say that he would vote for the framework.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday the bill needs to be ‘improved,’ and appeared to get behind House progressives who continue to want to hold back supporting a bipartisan infrastructure bill until there is more evidence of a deal that can hold on the reconciliation bill.
‘You need 50 members on board before there should be a vote, in my view, in the House,’ said Sanders (I-Vt.).
The details of the framework still making their way around Washington, Pelosi told her members she wanted them to vote on the Separate infrastructure bill Thursday, Punchbowl news reported.
One idea would be for her to hold the vote, but then ‘hold’ the legislation back before sending it to Biden’s desk, as a way to meet progressive demands that the $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill also moves. But it was not clear whether the requisite number of progressives – almost all of them are needed – would go along.
Earlier, White House officials detailed the fresh framework to reporters.
‘We are confident that this historic framework will earn the support of every Democratic senator and pass the House,’ a senior official said.
Missing from the $1.75 trillion framework – paid family leave, which holdout Sen. Joe Manchin was against, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, which Sen. Kyrsten Sinema resisted.
‘At the end of the day, there are not yet enough votes to get something across the line and will deliver what the people need and expect on prescription drugs,’ an official explained.
The bill still contains a universal pre-K component, which would be authorized for six years.
Biden’s climate agenda stayed intact.
And Medicare coverage would be expanded to include hearing services, something Sen. Bernie Sanders championed.
Sanders, however, wanted dental and vision to be covered by Medicare as well.
Some progressives were fuming when Wednesday when paid leave fell out of the framework, although many of them got behind the written framework that was announced.
En route to Rome, deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the move, when asked why it wasn’t more of a priority.
‘It’s very much a priority. That’s why the president included it in his Build Back Better agenda. Right now, the president wants to move forward [with a bill] that’s going to get passed. That’s going to get all the members that he needs,’ she said.
Senators including Sen. Kyrsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) were continuing to try to lobby Manchin seeking a way to get it back into the package Thursday.
There was some awkward timing for the calculated decision to lose the provision. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg only recently revealed he had been on family leave, offered as part of an administration policy, after adopting twin babies in August with husband Chasten.
‘The President will speak to the House Democratic Caucus this morning to provide an update about the Build Back Better agenda and the bipartisan infrastructure deal,’ a White House official said Thursday morning in a statement before the visit. ‘Before departing for his foreign trip, he will return to the White House and speak to the American people about the path forward for his economic agenda and the next steps to getting it done.’
As Biden arrived at the Capitol, he told reporters it was a ‘good day.’
The meeting with Democrats lasted about an hour.
The drama all unfolded before Biden and First Lady Jill Biden took off on their trip to Rome, where Biden will meet with Pope Francis and other leaders on Friday before participating in this weekend’s G20 Leaders’ Summit.
He delayed his departure by several hours to meet with lawmakers.
The president had been hoping that Congress would vote on the Build Back Better reconciliation bill – which had originally been priced at a $3.5 trillion investment in ‘human infrastructure’ priorities and climate change provisions – before he left for Italy and Scotland.
In Glasgow, he will participate in the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit.
Democrats have been forced to whittle down the package due to resistance from moderates Manchin and Sinema.
At the same time, Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill – which already passed in the Senate – is stuck in the House, as progressives pushed to keep social programs, like paid family leave, in the reconciliation bill.
The president on Wednesday night urged Democrats to wrap up talks and bring the social services and climate change bill ‘over the finish line’.
Part of Biden’s mission on Capitol Hill Thursday was convincing progressives, including members of the so-called ‘squad,’ that they should allow a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill to go forward.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer indicated that a House vote on the infrastructure plan could come as early as Thursday, depending on the outcome of Biden’s Capitol Hill meeting.
Pelosi told House Democrats that she wanted the infrastructure bill passed before Biden touched down in Rome later tonight, according to Punchbowl News.
Progressives fear Biden sold out to Manchin, whose coal country constituents want him to water down renewable energy plans.
‘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, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota shared a similar sentiment.
‘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,’ she tweeted Wednesday night.
Keeping the climate change provisions in the bill should help Biden with that effort.
However, there is likely to be disappointment that paid family leave, and two years of free community college – another Biden campaign promise – were chopped.
The White House also released Thursday how the Build Back Better bill would be paid for, including a new ‘surtax’ on earnings by millionaires that would raise an estimated $230 million over a decade.
The tax revenue raiser was a last-ditch addition to find funds for the overall $1.75 trillion package – after another last-minute idea, a ‘billionaires tax’ that went after investments held but not yet sold, was jettisoned.
The White House is selling the idea as a ‘a new surtax on the income of multi-millionaires and billionaires,’ who it notes make up the top 0.02 per cent of the population.
The 5 per cent surcharge goes on income over $10 million, with an extra 3 per cent surcharge on income of more than $25 million.
The plan says it also will close a ‘loophole’ that lets wealthy taxpayers avoid paying the 3.8 per cent Medicare tax on earnings.
The surtax came into the picture after Biden and several key Democratic senators came out publicly for the billionaires tax – only to have West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin throw cold water on it.
Dropped from the plan altogether are some of Biden’s top revenue proposals: an increase in the top corporate tax rate, an increase in the top individual tax rate, and a tax hike on capital gains.
Although the corporate rate hike is out, the plan does slap a 15 per cent minimum tax on corporate profits for corporations with over $1 billion in profits, based on shareholder reporting. It would raise an estimated $325 billion over a decade.
‘This means that if a large corporation says it’s profitable, then it can’t avoid paying its tax bill,’ according to a White House summary.
It also includes a 1 per cent surcharge on corporate stock buybacks – which executives and board members are able to support to ‘enrich themselves rather than investing [in] workers and growing the economy,’ as the White House put it. That provision would bring in an estimated $125 billion.
Another proposal would put a 15 per cent minimum tax on profits that U.S. corporations earn overseas, in keeping with a multinational agreement on a 15 per cent global minimum tax. It would bring in $325 billion, according to the White House.
For any of the hikes to happen, House and Senate negotiators must agree on final legislative language that passes through each chamber and gets signed by the president.
The White House is also claiming $400 billion in savings from boosted IRS enforcement – which it says will target the rich.
‘The President’s plan will accomplish this through transformation investments in the IRS: hiring enforcement agents who are trained to pursue wealthy evaders, overhauling technology from the 1960s, and investing in taxpayer service, so ordinary Americans can get their questions answered. Additional enforcement resources will be focused on pursuing those with the highest incomes; not Americans with income less than $400,000,’ it says.
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.
In the evenly divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare.
A Sunday deadline loomed for approving the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill or risk allowing funds for routine transportation programs to expire.