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Oct. 28, 2021, 10:08 a.m. EDT

Democrats drop paid family leave, and maybe billionaires tax, from social-spending bill whose 10-year price tag now appears to be in vicinity of $1.75 trillion

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Top Democrats signaled a deal is within reach on President Joe Biden’s big domestic bill but momentum fizzled and tempers flared late Wednesday as a paid family leave proposal fell out and a billionaires’ tax appeared scrapped, mostly to satisfy a pivotal member of the 50-50 Senate.

The latest: Biden to meet with House Democrats and unveil framework for social-spending bill

With his signature domestic initiative at stake, Biden will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to urge Democratic lawmakers to bring talks on the social-services and climate-change bill “over the finish line” before he departs for global summits overseas. It was widely reported early Thursday that he would deliver an address to the nation — and, equally, to Democratic lawmakers — announcing a social-spending framework that he expected all members of the party, along with Senate independents Bernie Sanders and Angus King, to be able to vote for .

Biden was reportedly set to deliver remarks at 11:30 a.m. local time, ahead of his flight to Rome for a Group of 20 gathering and, later, the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow , Scotland.

Still in the mix: expanded healthcare programs, free pre-kindergarten and some $500 billion to tackle climate change remain in what’s now at least a $1.75 trillion package.

And Democrats are eyeing a new surcharge on the rich — 5% on incomes above $10 million and an additional 3% on those consistently making more than $25 million annually — to help pay for it, according to a person who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.

“They’re all within our reach,” Biden tweeted late Wednesday. “Let’s bring these bills over the finish line.”

To help push lawmakers toward that goal, Biden was set to speak Thursday morning to the House Democratic caucus, a person familiar with the plan told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Besides pressing for important party priorities, the president was hoping to show foreign leaders the U.S. was getting things done under his administration, notably in the area of climate.

The administration was assessing the situation “hour by hour,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Wednesday 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 funding sources.

A just-proposed tax on billionaires could be scrapped after Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and a pivotal swing voter, objected, according to a senior party aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the private talks.

The billionaires’ tax proposal had been designed to win over another Democratic holdout, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, 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 don’t skip out on 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. After his objections it was unlikely to be included in the bill, the person said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from 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.”

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 considerably higher in the formulation of Vermont independent Sanders and allies, and infuriating colleagues along the way.

In the evenly divided Senate, Biden needs all Democrats’ support with no votes to spare.

Key Words: Democrat? Republican? ‘I don’t know where in the hell I belong,’ Manchin jokes.

White House officials met at the Capitol with Manchin and Sinema, who now hold enormous sway, essentially deciding whether or not Biden will be able to deliver on the Democrats’ major campaign promises.

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