Helping Joe Manchin Decide

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 15, 2021

Let’s help Sen. Joe Manchin decide just how much the government should spend to expand education, health care, childcare and invest in climate.

Manchin repeatedly seems unable to say what he will support, only what he will not — namely, the $3.5 trillion spending package that Joe Biden has advanced, and which progressive Democrats are pressing to present for a one-time push through the clogged Congressional pipeline through “reconciliation” rather than waiting for mountains to move to prompt 10 Republicans or more to defect from anti-Democrat glue to offer cross-party votes in favor.

All we hear from Manchin, and so-called moderates, is that they do not want to support a bill with that big a number. Maybe half, maybe a third, maybe whatever occurs to him as the key vote to whether Democrats maintain a single-vote majority in the Senate.

So, with voter common sense about what ails our country, let’s give Manchin and friends a menu to determine what items he would start tossing items from what he sees as an overfilled budget basket.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a set of tax-the-wealthy proposals that have roiled the waters altogether, both because they create new taxes — drawing progressive cheers and conservative pans — and yet are short of some expected high targets. Apart from all else, it is the tax package that may dictate how choosy Manchin has to be to stay within a pledge of voting for things that are paid for by taxes. These tax proposals are estimated to be worth $2 trillion over the same 10 years, perhaps guiding whatever compromise there is on spending.

We can expect only a lot of political heat over all of this and little attention to the effects on people.

The Spending

Here’s what CNN compiled from the draft legislation from various House committees and the Senate Budget Committee’s resolution summaries:

You be Joe Manchin. Which programs would you cut in half or eliminate totally? You’ll notice right away that no one is measuring the costs of doing nothing. If you think this exercise is difficult, count yourself as a vote for a Manchin slow-down in considering the alternatives, though he already has an outcome in mind.

Support for families: The Senate resolution calls for multiple measures that were contained in the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan Biden proposed in April.

· Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, the federal government would invest $200 billion in universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds through a partnership with states. The administration estimates it would benefit 5 million children and save the average family $13,000 when fully implemented. It would be accessible to families of all income levels, but states would be required to foot about 50% of the cost when the measure is fully up and running.

· Enhanced childcare for working families. Under a proposal from the House Committee on Education and Labor, low- and middle-income households would pay no more than 7% of their income on childcare for kids up to age 5. Parents earning up to 200% of their state median income for their family size would qualify. An alternate version would ensure that those parents and caregivers have up-to-date information on available childcare options and help them apply for slots. It would fund the construction and remodeling of childcare facilities and raise the wages of childcare workers by providing grants to agencies. The President has also said he wants to bring the wages of the childcare workforce up to $15 an hour, from around $12 hourly rate they earned in 2020.

· Community College Tuition. Draft legislation would make community college tuition-free for two years. Under Biden’s plan, the federal government would cover about 75% of the average tuition cost in each state when the program is fully implemented, with states picking up the rest. States would also be expected to maintain their current contributions to their higher education systems. Proposals would increase Pell Grants making investments in historically Black colleges and universities, as well as other institutions that cater to students of color.

· Federally paid and medical leave benefit of up to 12 weeks. The American Families Plan calls for giving workers a total of 12 weeks of guaranteed paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave by the 10th year of the program.

· Extending the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and child and dependent care tax credit which will expire in December to 2025, paid in monthly installments.

· Expanding child nutrition programs by $35 billion to allow nearly 9 million more children to receive free school meals by less restrictive eligibility, eliminating paperwork, adding healthier foods to school kitchens, and helping get more low-income children food during summer. Lawmakers have addressed child hunger in covid aid bills, but states have been slow to roll out the program.

Expanded Health Benefits:

· Adding dental after 2028 and vision and hearing benefits to Medicare after October 2022.

· The Senate wants to lower the age limit for Medicare, but so far, the House bill does not.

· Make permanent government supports for the Affordable Care Act subsidies to require no more than 8.5% of their income and make assistance available to more Americans. Also, lower-income policyholders can receive subsidies that eliminate their premiums completely. But the boost in aid is only available this year and next at this point.

· Extend Medicaid eligibility to those who live in the states that have not adopted Medicaid expansion. This would allow up to 4 million uninsured people to gain access to coverage after 2025 but allow those below the federal poverty line to receive premium and cost-sharing subsidies not available to them now.

· Allow federal negotiations to reduce prescription drug prices of at least 50 and as many as 250 high-cost medications that lack competition, including insulin. The price would be available to Medicare beneficiaries and to individuals enrolled in group health plans. The proposal would also require drug manufacturers who increase their prices faster than inflation to pay back the excess amount to the federal government, which would benefit enrollees in Medicare and employer-sponsored plans. And it would add a cap to out-of-pocket costs in Medicare drug plans for the first time. Beneficiaries would each pay no more than $2,000.

· Promote health equity, particularly investing in maternal, behavioral, and racial justice health measures. The House Energy and Commerce Committee proposal would ensure that all pregnant women on Medicaid could keep their coverage for the first year after giving birth.

Climate Change

· Reduce economy-wide carbon emissions by 50% and for the US power grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources before 2030.

· Create new polluter fees, creating new consumer rebates for home electrification and weatherization, providing clean energy, manufacturing, and transportation tax incentives and grants, and electrifying the federal vehicle fleet and buildings.

· Invest in agriculture conservation, drought, and forestry programs to help reduce carbon emissions and prevent wildfires.

· Invest $150 billion in grants for electricity companies that provide clean energy, $13.5 billion for electrical vehicle infrastructure in underserved communities and public buildings, and $9 billion to modernize the energy grid among others.

Invest more in infrastructure and jobs

· Affordable housing, Native American infrastructure, and what Biden is calling a Civilian Climate Corporations to employ thousands of young people to work conserving public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice.

· Provide green cards to millions of immigrant workers and families.

· Create workforce development programs. This would include money to raise the wages of direct care workers, fund jobs fighting climate change and expand apprenticeships and other job training programs targeted to serve idled workers and young people.

· Public School infrastructure to funds to districts with the greatest need and allow schools to repair, modernize and rebuild outdated school buildings.

· Hiking taxes on the rich and corporations

Increasing Taxes

House Democrats want to increase taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations to pay for the budget package, though proposals for higher rates were capping in debate this week were moving downward. Generally, higher rates would apply to individuals with taxable income over $400,000 a year and married couples filing jointly earning over $450,000 annually. The top capital gains rate would increase to 25%, from 20%.

In addition, lawmakers are considering a 3% surtax on individuals with adjusted gross incomes more than $5 million. Still, analysts said billionaires would pay no more than wealthy taxpayers making far less.

Corporate taxes would be raised as well, though likely not as high as Biden had proposed.

Altogether, the additional levies on high-income individuals would raise approximately $1 trillion. Biden has promised that those earning below $400,000 a year would not see a tax hike.

The proposals also would give the Internal Revenue Service an additional $80 billion over the next 10 years for tax enforcement of high-income Americans, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated could raise $200 billion.

In all told, the measures would raise an estimated $2.9 trillion, though the plan cautions that “this number remains very preliminary.” When combined with an estimated $600 billion in dynamic revenue growth estimated by the White House, the proposal would fully offset the cost of the Democrats’ budget package, according to the drafters.

If you didn’t cut the health care proposals, don’t think you made a big dent in the overall number. If you don’t raise taxes on the wealthy, you won’t get votes from those who want us to pay our way to new spending.

##

Journalist, musician, community volunteer