Democrats scramble to replace Build Back Better with new economic plan

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With inflation on the rise and the threat of a recession looming, congressional Democrats are scrambling to revive their long-stalled economic spending package, hoping to deliver relief to Americans whose finances have soured during months of political bickering.

When Democrats last tried to advance the party’s $2 trillion initiative in December, hoping to overhaul the nation’s health-care, education, climate and tax laws, the economy seemed to be booming: Stocks traded high, gas prices were low and lawmakers saw an opening to advance the measure then known as the Build Back Better Act.

More than six months later, however, the economy has shifted considerably. Along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and another resurgence of the coronavirus, the nation faces soaring costs for housing, gasoline, groceries and other goods, all made worse by the specter of another downturn. The economic peril has fueled new urgency on Capitol Hill, where Democrats hope to resolve their differences, re-craft their agenda and deliver before fall on at least some of the promises they made in the last election.

“It’s essential to do because it responds to pocketbook concerns right now — financial concerns right now, it moves to cut costs right now — and it also lays the foundation for these smarter approaches for the future,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the leader of the tax-focused Senate Finance Committee.

How the White House lost Joe Manchin, and its plan to transform America

The chief obstacle remains Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), a moderate whose opposition last year scuttled President Biden’s agenda. Manchin has huddled privately and repeatedly with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in recent weeks, as Democrats labor anew to secure his must-have vote on a scaled-back bill that they hope to bring to the floor in July.

Manchin has remained steadfast in his belief that the U.S. government should spend less, and raise more, than others in his party prefer. Increasingly, Democrats believe they will end up with a package far smaller in scope than they first envisioned — one focused on lowering prescription drug prices and combating climate change, with spending financed through changes to tax laws that also cut the deficit.

But many of the key details are still unresolved, generating fresh discomfort among lawmakers. In a sign of the lingering schisms, a broadly supported attempt to lower the price of health insurance by extending subsidies under the Affordable Care Act remains at risk of falling out of the package entirely. The loss of those tax credits could result in premium increases for millions of Americans next year.

The delays and doubts have only compounded Democrats’ frustrations after they had to abandon plans to lessen the price of housing, make child care more affordable and push the development of energy sources that can be alternatives to expensive gas — ideas, they say, that might have made a difference with a potential recession on the horizon.

“You know how strongly I felt about Build Back Better as we passed it. … None of that has changed,” said Rep. Pramila…

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