Biden Turns Up Pressure on Democrats Balking at Spending Bill

Sept. 16, 2021, 6:30 PM

President Joe Biden ratcheted up pressure on congressional Democrats on Thursday, as discord within the party threatened to derail key pieces of his economic agenda, including lowering prescription drug prices and some of his proposed tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.

“For a long time, this economy’s worked great for those at the very top,” Biden said in a speech Thursday at the White House. “This our moment to deal working people back into the economy.”

WATCH: President Biden says the country is at an inflection point.
Source: Bloomberg)

Biden faulted Republicans for attacking his plan, but his remarks were aimed to unite Democrats around the struggles of middle class families. The president highlighted the prices of prescription drugs, hearing aids, gas, meat and high-speed internet, as well as the general costs of raising a child.

The recent back-and-forth on Capitol Hill has shown the limits of Biden’s power to guide the $3.5 trillion plan through a narrowly divided Congress. Moderate Democrats have balked at recent efforts to negotiate on drug prices and to impose a new tax on the assets of the wealthiest people, measures that progressives applaud.

The White House can only afford to lose the support of three House Democrats for the package to pass; it needs all Democratic votes in the Senate.

On Wednesday, Biden hosted two moderate Democratic senators -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- for separate meetings at the White House. Manchin has pushed for a spending package less than half of Biden’s proposal, a move that risks delaying the president’s package by weeks or months in Congress with tax, health care and other issues still unresolved.

Biden’s Economic Plan at Risk of Delays Amid Democratic Rifts

White House aides have spent the last several days negotiating and speaking with lawmakers and top staffers to weigh various options to raise enough money to fully fund Biden’s plan and ensure as many big policies as possible survive the legislative process.

“That isn’t about raising your taxes,” said Biden. “It’s about the super wealthy finally beginning to pay what they owe.”

LISTEN: Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) discusses drug prices with Joe Mathieu on Bloomberg Radio

Progressives have been disappointed as House Democratic lawmakers shied away from ideas like taxing the increase of wealthy people’s assets at death -- a key pillar of Biden’s attempts to reduce income inequality. Just this week, after intense lobbying from the health-care industry, a handful of moderate Democrats also backed away from efforts to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.

Democratic Representatives Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Scott Peters of California and Kathleen Rice of New York joined Republicans in voting against a bill to allow the government to demand lower prices from drugmakers and cap price increases on some medicines. The measure failed to advance, in a tied committee vote.

--With assistance from Jennifer Epstein and Alexander Ruoff.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Nancy Cook in Washington at ncook40@bloomberg.net;
Josh Wingrove in Washington at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net

Joshua Gallu, Christopher Anstey

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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