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Before the policy revolution comes the political drama.
Three people are haggling behind closed doors in Washington, DC, over a social safety net bill – and the end result could give American kids more years of free education … or not; combat climate change, expand Medicare, lower drug prices and change the social fabric of the country… or not.
Sales pitch: Something is better than nothing. President Joe Biden brought the private negotiations into the open at CNN’s town hall Thursday when he explained, with a smile on his face, why Democrats wouldn’t make good on numerous 2020 campaign promises.
Rather, he said they would pass what’s possible, which is whatever two moderate holdouts will approve.
Read CNN’s report from Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox, who cover the White House and Capitol Hill, about the path to a final deal.
How to influence people. Biden heaped praise on Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia – “a friend” – and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – “smart as the devil.”
He also tried to explain their obstruction in the most collegial ways possible without sounding angry or frustrated at what’s being lost.
RELATED: Sinema is ‘smart as the devil’ and Manchin is ‘not a bad guy,’ Biden says
Cuts and revisions. Top Biden priorities like free community college for all are being cut out of the bill. Other elements, like the poverty-erasing child tax credit and an extension of Medicare benefits, are being sanded down.
Explaining why the current framework pares guaranteed parental leave from 12 weeks to four, Biden was open about having to compromise – “four is what I could get.”
Four weeks of guaranteed parental leave probably sounds better than zero to a lot of parents who don’t work for companies that already have more generous policies. It’s nowhere near the average of 45 weeks of parental leave in other industrialized countries.
Multiple hurdles. Four or five obstacles to wrapping up the Democratic talks remain, according to Biden – although by the end of this story you’ll think it’s probably a few more obstacles than that.
Chiefly, they have figure out how to cover the roughly $1.8 trillion cost of the proposals without raising tax rates, which will be a huge step. And they can’t lose any Senate Democrats, including progressives like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
And yet! Optimism. The smile on Biden’s face on Thursday indicates he does believe Democrats will pass something.
Which leads us to the next, and more important, element of what’s going on in Washington right now: The negotiations of these three people and their staffs could well change the lives of nearly every American.
CNN’s Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco have an excellent roundup of what, exactly, is currently on the table and what those provisions could actually do. Bookmark this. They’ve been updating it.
10 bold ideas and where they’re at right now
The 10 examples below are just a sample of what’s in their report. I’ve borrowed some of their language and tried to explain how the rhetoric has been pared back by reality.
Bold idea: Establishing universal Pre-K
Who it would affect: Every American 3- and 4- year-old would have access to public school two years before kindergarten. The $200 billion cost would be paid for by the federal government in partnership with states. This could affect 5 million kids and save their families $13,000 per year in day care costs, according to estimates.
How’s it going? This remains a centerpiece of the plan.
Bold idea: Bring kids out of poverty
How it works: Democrats already enacted this plan when they expanded a child tax credit as part of their coronavirus relief plan.
What’s next? The stimulus version of this benefit expires after one year. The current plan is to expand it by at least one or two years.
What’s it worth to families? This year’s version pays $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each one under age 18. It is available as a refundable credit to low-income families or as a deduction for people who pay more taxes. Half is going to people monthly, and half could come at tax time.
How’s it going? Manchin has suggested a work requirement for low-income families to receive the payments. Biden opposes placing that kind of condition on a payment meant to benefit kids.
Bold idea: Make child care more affordable
How it works: Households would pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for kids up to age 5. Parents earning up to 200% of their state median income for their family size would qualify.
There are also proposals to raise child care worker wages and invest in facilities.
How’s it going? Not clear, but it has not been among the reported sticking points.
Bold idea: Guaranteed paid family and medical leave
How’s it going? Proposals for 12 weeks have been pared back to four. A guarantee for all has been limited to those making less than $100,000.
Bold idea: Feed every hungry child
How would it work? Spend $35 billion to give millions more kids access to food at school during the year and in the summer. This would build off of investments made in pandemic relief bills, although those had varying success in different states.
How’s it going? This has not been an obvious sticking point.
Bold idea: Give Medicare recipients vision, hearing and dental
Why is this necessary? 24 million Medicare patients – nearly half of those enrolled – didn’t have dental coverage in 2019, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report.
How’s it going? Some type of vision and hearing coverage look likely to be included in the final bill, but expensive dental benefits may be only on a trial basis.
A proposal to lower the Medicare eligibility age also did not make the cut.
RELATED: Democrats’ dilemma: How to keep health care expansion in their big spending bill
Bold idea: Beef up the Affordable Care Act
What’s happening? Congress expanded subsidies for Affordable Care Act health insurance plans during the pandemic.
How’s it going? A plan to permanently expand those subsidies could be pared back to three years.
Bold idea: Give more low-income Americans health insurance
Why is this needed? Twelve states refused to expand their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act, leaving 4 million people who might otherwise have health insurance without coverage.
What’s the solution? Create a federal Medicaid program to fill the gap.
How’s it going? This has not been an obvious sticking point.
Bold idea: Lower prescription drug prices
Proposed solution: Allowing Medicare, which pays for a lot of drugs, to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies for between 50 and 250 high-cost drugs, including insulin. Medicare patients with drug coverage would see their out-of-pocket expenses capped at $2,000.
Who would benefit: Medicare beneficiaries and individuals enrolled in group health plans.
How’s it going? This is the subject of much negotiation. It’s not clear there are enough votes since Sinema appears to oppose it, as do several House Democrats.
Bold idea: Combating climate change
What’s the solution? Wow. There are multiple proposals. These are a priority of Sinema. But Manchin has opposed one of the meatiest ideas, which was to give credits to electricity providers who lower carbon emissions and penalize those who don’t.
How’s it going? Party leaders are scrambling to develop a replacement from existing proposals, emphasizing tax credits and incentives to cut carbon emissions without imposing penalties.
Stay tuned, America.
CNN’s Tami Luhby, Katie Lobosco, Phil Mattingly and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.