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Nov. 3, 2021, 5:30 p.m. EDT

House Democrats add SALT relief, paid leave, immigration changes to social-spending bill

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By Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Democrats added paid family and medical leave, immigration law changes and a state-and-local tax break to their $1.75 trillion social services and environmental bill Wednesday, reviving some key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda as they rush to finish the package after dismal overnight election results.

The House Rules Committee convened Wednesday afternoon to consider the updated text of the now-sprawling 2,135-page package — a crucial step ahead of initial House votes that are possible as soon as Thursday.

The flurry of last-minute additions — on top of a plan to include lower Medicare prescription drug prices — comes as Democrats are desperate to deliver on Biden’s signature domestic proposals after  grim election results overnight in Virginia , where voters chose a Republican political newcomer, Glenn Youngkin, over seasoned Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor. That amounted to a warning for Democrats that their grip on power could be in peril in next year’s midterms.

Most  voters in Virginia said drawn-out negotiations  in Washington over Biden’s governing agenda were an important factor in their vote, so blame was flowing to Capitol Hill as Democrats have spent months arguing over details of the package.

“We’ve got to produce,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told reporters at the Capitol. “We’ve got to get results for people.”

Democrats are now rushing to shelve their differences, particularly with holdout Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The family leave provision Manchin had resisted earlier is expected to include four weeks of paid time off for childbirth, recovery from major illness or caring for family members, according to three people familiar with the legislation who requested anonymity to discuss it.

Biden had reluctantly dropped a scaled-back paid leave proposal from last week’s White House framework after Manchin balked at the cost. But Democrats who have lobbied for a paid leave program as a Democratic priority for decades continued to push it, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday it would be part of the House’s massive package.

It’s “a policy that will finally give workers and their families the peace of mind of knowing that when disaster strikes, they can rely on paid leave to avoid total crisis,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said in a statement. He said it is to be fully paid for with revenue offsets elsewhere.

On another remaining issue, the Democrats compromised on a plan partly to do away with the $10,000 limit on state and local tax deductions that particularly hits New York, California and other high-tax states and was enacted as part of the Trump-era 2017 tax plan.

While repeal of the so-called SALT deduction cap is a priority for several northeastern state lawmakers, progressives wanted to prevent the super-wealthy from benefiting. Under the plan, the $10,000 deduction cap would be lifted to $72,500 for 10 years, starting with the 2021 tax year.

And the just-added immigration provision would create a new program for some 7 million immigrants who are in the country without legal standing, allowing them to apply for permits to work and travel in the U.S. for five years, according to another person who requested anonymity to discuss the details. It would also allow the government to tap unused visas to admit people into the U.S.

Resolving the immigration issue was among the last daunting challenges to finishing up the draft of Biden’s package. Biden had set aside $100 billion to fund the immigration changes, which could bolster the overall package from $1.75 trillion to $1.85 trillion if it is accepted by the Senate. Lawmakers plan to make their case for the immigration law changes to the Senate parliamentarian in coming days, after they have an official tally of the proposal’s costs.

Both the paid family leave and the immigration law changes have drawn resistance from Manchin, who support remains crucial in the 50-50 Senate, where Biden has no votes to spare. The overall bill faces united opposition from Republicans.

Pelosi in a letter to colleagues Wednesday acknowledged opposition to the House’s approach from a single senator, a reference to Manchin. But Pelosi’s strategy now seems intent on passing the most robust bill possible in her chamber and then leaving Manchin, Sinema or others to adjust or strip out the portions they won’t agree to in the Senate.

“We must strive to find common ground in the legislation,” Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.

Manchin wants Democrats need to take more time in negotiations, and panned the paid-leave announcement, suggesting it could be done separate from Biden’s package or “in a bipartisan way.”

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