Democrats Look to Smooth the Way for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan
House Democrats face hurdles to pushing through the president’s big spending plans, including Republican opposition and resistance from their own ranks.,
WASHINGTON — Senior Democrats on Monday proposed a tax increase that could partly finance President Biden’s plans to pour trillions of dollars into infrastructure and other new government programs, as party leaders weighed an aggressive strategy to force his spending proposals through Congress over unified Republican opposition.
The moves were the start of a complex effort by Mr. Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill to pave the way for another huge tranche of federal spending after the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that was enacted this month. The president is set to announce this week the details of his budget, including his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.
He is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to describe the first half of a “Build Back Better” proposal that aides say will include a total of $3 trillion in new spending and up to an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives.
Yet with Republicans showing early opposition to such a large plan and some Democrats resisting key details, the proposals will be more difficult to enact than the pandemic aid package, which Democrats muscled through the House and Senate on party-line votes.
In the House, where Mr. Biden can currently afford to lose only eight votes, Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes. He is one of a handful of House Democrats who are calling on the president to repeal the provision.
And in the Senate, where most major legislation requires 60 votes to advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, was exploring an unusual maneuver that could allow Democrats to once again use reconciliation — the fast-track budget process they used for the stimulus plan — to steer his spending plans through Congress in the next few months even if Republicans are unanimously opposed.
While an aide to Mr. Schumer said a final decision had not been made to pursue such a strategy, the prospect, discussed on the condition of anonymity, underscored the lengths to which Democrats were willing to go to push through Mr. Biden’s agenda.
The president’s initiatives will feature money for traditional infrastructure projects like rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems; spending to advance a transition to a lower-carbon energy system, like electric vehicle charging stations and the construction of energy-efficient buildings; investments in emerging industries like advanced batteries; education efforts like free community college and universal prekindergarten; and measures to help women work and earn more, like increased support for child care.
The proposals are expected to be partly offset by a wide range of tax increases on corporations and high earners.
In Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden will lay out “the first of two equally critical packages to rebuild our economy and create better-paying jobs for American workers,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday.
“He’ll talk this week about investments we need to make in domestic manufacturing, R & D, the caregiving economy and infrastructure,” she added. “In the coming weeks, the president will lay out his vision for a second package that focuses squarely on creating economic security for the middle class through investments in child care, health care, education and other areas.”
Mr. Biden’s budget office is also expected this week to release his spending request for the next fiscal year, which is separate from the infrastructure plan. White House officials said it would lay out funding levels agency by agency, so that congressional committees could begin to write appropriations bills for next year. For the first time in a decade, they will not be limited by spending caps imposed by Congress. (Lawmakers have agreed to break those caps in recent years.)
That request will not include Mr. Biden’s tax plans, the officials said. The administration’s full budget will be presented to Congress this spring.
For now, some Democrats are already jockeying to make sure that their proposals are part of the plan.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, and a group of liberal Democrats on Monday proposed scaling back a provision in the tax code that allows wealthy heirs to reduce what they pay on assets they inherit, known as stepped-up basis. The proposal reflects one of Mr. Biden’s campaign promises, and officials have suggested that it could be used to fund his infrastructure plans.
Current law reduces the taxes that heirs owe on assets that appreciate over time. Say a person buys $1 million worth of stock, and the value of that stock rises to $10 million before the person dies. If the person sold the stock before death, she would owe taxes on a $9 million gain. But if she died first, and her heirs immediately sold the stocks she gave them, they would not owe any capital gains taxes. Under the new proposal, which exempts $1 million in gains, the heirs would owe taxes on the remaining $8 million gain.
The full exemption reduces federal tax revenues by more than $40 billion a year. It was unclear on Monday how much the Democratic plan would raise in revenues to help Mr. Biden’s spending efforts.
Other Democrats pushed the president to include further tax cuts in his plan.
Mr. Suozzi of New York said in an interview on Monday that he would not support changes to the tax code without a full repeal of the so-called SALT cap, which limits the amount of local and state taxes that can be deducted from federal income taxes. That change largely hurt higher-income households in high-tax states like California, Maryland and New York.
House Democrats passed legislation in 2019 that would have temporarily removed the cap, but it stalled in the Senate and attempts to include it in pandemic relief legislation were unsuccessful.
“It has to be elevated as part of the conversation,” Mr. Suozzi said. “There’s a lot of different talk about going big and going bold and making significant changes to the tax code. I want to make SALT part of the conversation.”
The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.
Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more
This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.
There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.
The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.
He is among the Democrats who have requested a meeting with Mr. Biden to discuss repealing the cap, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.
“No SALT, no dice,” declared another Democrat, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.
“There’s plenty of ways, in my opinion, to raise revenue and reinstate SALT,” he said in an interview, adding that he wanted to see the full details of the proposal.
Ms. Psaki said on Monday that administration officials “look forward to working with a broad coalition of members of Congress to gather their input and ideas, and determine the path forward, create good jobs and make America more competitive.”
While members of both parties have said they support a major infrastructure initiative, Republicans have balked at the details of Mr. Biden’s opening bid, which includes not only sweeping investments in traditional public works but also more ambitious proposals to tackle climate change and education, and tax increases to help offset the considerable costs.
“Unfortunately, it looks like this is not going to head in the direction I had hoped,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said at an event in his state. “My advice to the administration is: If you want to do an infrastructure bill, let’s do an infrastructure bill. Let’s don’t turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals.”
“I’d love to do an infrastructure bill,” he added. “I’m not interested in raising taxes across the board on America. I think it will send our economy in the wrong direction.”
Should Democratic lawmakers try to move Mr. Biden’s plan through the regular legislative process and overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, at least 10 Republicans would need to join them.
But the reconciliation process allows a fiscal package included in the budget resolution to be shielded from a filibuster. Mr. Schumer has asked the Senate’s top rule-enforcer whether Democrats can revisit the budget blueprint that was approved last month to include the infrastructure plan, which would enable them to undertake a second reconciliation process before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and pass it with a simple majority.
Because there is no precedent for passing two reconciliation packages in the same budget year with the same blueprint, Elizabeth MacDonough, the parliamentarian, will have to issue guidance on whether doing so is permissible under Senate rules.
If Democrats succeed, they could potentially use the reconciliation maneuver at least two more times this calendar year to push through more of Mr. Biden’s agenda.