Biden tells progressives he's open to means-testing programmes

US President Joe Biden is also campaigning for support from voters. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden told a group of progressives and members of the House leadership on Monday (Oct 4) that he is open to setting income limits for some of the programmes in his social-spending bill, to lower the price tag, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

During the virtual meeting, Biden also reiterated that he expects the legislation would eventual fall in the range of US$1.9 trillion (S$2.6 trillion) to US$2.2 trillion - down from the US$3.5 trillion originally proposed, the person, who asked for anonymity to discuss the private talks, said.

That's the amount the White House expects could win agreement from two centrist Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose votes will be pivotal to passage, according to the person.

Manchin also has advocated for the means-testing of some programmes designed to benefit middle- and lower-income Americans.

Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement that the discussion with Biden was "productive and necessary", but gave no details.

The White House, which didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday's session, said that the president would be meeting virtually with moderate House Democrats on Tuesday.

Biden is diving directly into the negotiations to bridge differences between progressive and moderate Democrats over the size and scope of his plans.

The impasse has jeopardised a package that spans beefed-up spending on health-care, elder-care, child-care and climate initiatives, paid for with tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

The progressives in the discussion with Biden advocated to keep their priorities in the bill, but were willing to scale them back or put them in effect for a shorter period, the person said.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CBS's Face the Nation that one way to trim the bill could be to fund programs for five years instead of 10.

Legislation passed through reconciliation - the filibuster-bypassing process Democrats are using for the social-spending bill - cannot increase the deficit after 10 years.

Progressive lawmakers secured a win on Friday, when Biden informed Democrats that a separate infrastructure bill would need to wait until the social welfare and tax package was complete - something the Congressional Progressive Caucus demanded for months.

Biden is also campaigning for support from voters. He is set to travel to Michigan Tuesday to urge passage of the two packages, nodding to a cradle of US manufacturing and a symbol of the rise and decline of the American middle class. He'll be in the district of Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, a key House moderate.

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