Biden tells Dems to quickly pass pared-down economic package

Alan Fram
Associated Press

Washington — President Joe Biden seemed to bow Friday to Sen. Joe Manchin’s demand for a slimmed-down economic package, telling Democrats to quickly push the measure through Congress so families could “sleep easier” and enjoy the health care savings it proposes.

Biden’s statement came hours after Manchin, the West Virginian who is one of Congress’ more conservative Democrats, said that if party leaders wanted to pass a measure before next month’s recess, it should be limited to provisions curbing prescription drug prices, extending subsidies for people buying health insurance and reducing the federal deficit.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walks to a caucus lunch at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 17, 2021.

“Families all over the nation will sleep easier if Congress takes this action,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “The Senate should move forward, pass it before the August recess, and get it to my desk so I can sign it.”

He added, “This will not only lower the cost of prescription drugs and health care for families, it will reduce the deficit and help fight inflation.”

Manchin, whose vote is a necessity for Democrats to succeed, had also said that if party leaders want to pursue a broader measure aimed at curbing climate change and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, they should wait until later this summer. He argued that would allow time to see what happens to inflation and interest rates this month, a delay that would also push consideration of the legislation until the weeks just before the November elections and jeopardize its fate.

In his statement, Biden said action on climate and clean energy “remains more urgent than ever” but also acknowledged a willingness to accept, for now, delays in congressional action.

“If the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment,” he said. His moves would produce jobs, shield the country against fuel price hikes and protect the climate, he said, adding, “I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”

Biden’s comments marked the latest retreat he and congressional Democratic leaders have made since initially pushing wider-ranging goals early last year that would have cost $3.5 trillion or more.

Those priorities would have also provided free pre-kindergarten, low-cost child care, paid family leave and more. But they ultimately fell victim to Democrats’ slender majorities in Congress and stark changes in the political and economic climate that have seen voters show deep concerns over this year’s soaring inflation, including record gasoline prices.

The president’s options for executive action or Environmental Protection Agency regulations could include rejecting permits for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters, tightening pollution allowed from coal-fired plants and restricting natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

Environmental advocates want him to go further and declare a national climate emergency that would invoke authorities to boost clean energy such as wind and solar power.

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AP reporters, Farnoush Amiri, Matthew Daly and Will Weissert contributed to this report.