U.S. President Joe Biden attends the G7 leaders' summit at the Bavarian resort of Schloss Elmau castle, near Garmisch-Part...

After Manchin demands, Biden tells Democrats to quickly pass pared-down economic package

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 election-year 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.

“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.”

Biden’s remarks underscored a growing sentiment among Democrats that after months of bargaining with Manchin that only made the president’s top-tier domestic priority ever smaller, it was time to declare victory.

That would mean postponing congressional action on easing climate change and raising taxes on higher earners and large companies, components Democrats have long wanted in the economic package. That would represent a jarring setback for those goals, which rank among the party’s most deeply held aspirations and set up a risky congressional showdown over the plan until the cusp of November’s elections.

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Even so, reducing pharmaceutical costs, helping consumers purchase health coverage and trimming federal red ink would let Democrats flash significant achievements before voters.

Manchin, whose vote is a necessity for Democrats to succeed in the 50-50 Senate, had also said Friday that if party leaders want to pursue a broader measure aimed at global warming 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.

“Let’s wait until that comes out so we know we’re going down the path that won’t be inflammatory to add more to inflation,” Manchin said on “Talkline,” a West Virginia talk radio show hosted by Hoppy Kercheval.

After months of citing inflation fears among his reasons for seeking to trim Biden’s overall package, Manchin raised intensified concerns this week after the government said annual inflation hit 9.1 percent in June, the heftiest increase in 41 years. Polls show inflation is voters’ top concern as November elections approach in which Republicans could well win control of the House and perhaps the Senate.

In his statement, Biden said action on climate and clean energy “remains more urgent than ever” but acknowledged a willingness to accept 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. He added, “I will not back down: the opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent.”

Biden’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.

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. They ultimately fell victim to Democrats’ slender majorities in Congress and changes in the political and economic climate that have seen voters’ concerns over the inflation and the economy intensify.

Any plan that emerges faces certain unanimous opposition from Republicans, who argue its boosts in spending and taxes would further inflame inflation.

Manchin had told Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday that he could not support a bill now that would include other party goals like battling climate change and raising taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, according to a Democrat briefed on those talks.

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The two lawmakers have been negotiating for months over a package that’s been expected to reach around $1 trillion over 10 years, with about half used to reduce federal deficits. Manchin blew up an earlier $2 trillion social and economic package last December after it had passed the House, a major setback for Biden.

The president’s ambitious environmental agenda has included weaning the power sector off planet-warming carbon gases by 2035 and cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.

Manchin said he considered his talks with Schumer “still going.” Yet his latest stance evoked a mixture of anger and pragmatism from fellow Democrats.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she was unsure what remained in her party’s proposal but added, “I would be very, of course, disappointed if the whole saving the planet is out of the bill.” A spokesperson for Schumer did not return requests for comment.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she was skeptical about Manchin’s acceptance of a health care focused package. “Look, the guy has changed his mind” before, Jayapal told reporters. “So let’s see. I have no confidence.”

“If there was a guarantee that we could get the bigger deal in September, I’m open to that,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “But to go to the altar, at some point we need to say, ‘I do.’”

Delaying action until after the August break would leave Democrats facing a dangerously ticking clock. Special budget powers expire Oct. 1 that would let them push the legislation through the 50-50 Senate over solid GOP opposition with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

That would pose a risk that any Democratic absences because of COVID-19 or any other reason would leave them lacking the votes they need. It would also push congressional action until just weeks before the November elections, when any votes can be quickly spun into a damaging campaign attack ad.

Manchin said he was concerned that raising corporate taxes would prompt layoffs and some of his party’s environmental proposals would hinder “what this country needs to run the economic engine and the lives of human beings.”

Other Democrats say the broader measure’s initiatives would be more than for by making high earners and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. And they’ve noted that deficit reduction helps control inflation by reducing the government’s need for borrowing, which would otherwise help boost interest rates.

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