As Democrats Trim Spending Bill, Some Americans Fear Being Left Behind

on Oct12
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WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are curbing their ambitions for President Biden’s economic agenda, and Jennifer Mount, a home health care aide, worries that means she will not get the raise she needs to pay more than $3,000 in medical bills for blindness in one eye.

Edison Suasnavas, who came to the United States from Ecuador as a child, has grown anxious about the administration’s efforts to establish a pathway to citizenship, which he hoped would allow him to keep doing molecular tests for cancer patients in Utah without fear of deportation.

And Amy Stelly wonders — thanks to a winnowing of Mr. Biden’s plans to invest in neighborhoods harmed by previous infrastructure projects like highways that have harmed communities of color — whether she will continue to breathe fumes from a freeway that she says constantly make her home in New Orleans shudder. She has a message for the president and the Democrats who are in the process of trying to pack his sprawling agenda into a diminishing legislative package.

“You come up and live next to this,” Ms. Stelly said. “You live this quality of life. We suffer while you debate.”

Mr. Furman and other former Obama administration officials saw firsthand how quickly a presidential agenda can shrink, and how presidential and congressional decisions can leave campaign priorities unaddressed for years. Mr. Obama prioritized an economic stimulus package and the creation of the Affordable Care Act over sweeping immigration and climate legislation in the early years of his presidency.

Stimulus and health care passed. The other two did not.

A similar fate now could befall Mr. Biden’s plans for home care workers, paid leave, child care subsidies, free prekindergarten and community college, investments in racial equity and, once again, immigration and climate change.

If Mr. Biden is able to push through a compromise bill with major investments in emissions reduction, “he’s got an engine that he’s working with” to fight climate change, said John Podesta, a former top aide to Mr. Obama and President Bill Clinton. “If he can’t get it, then I think, you know, we’re really kind of in soup, facing a major crisis.”

Republicans have criticized the spending and the tax increases that would help fund it, claiming that the Democratic package would hurt the economy. Democrats “just have an insatiable appetite to raise taxes and spend more money,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said on “Fox News Sunday” this week. “It would kill jobs.”

Some Democrats are eager to pack as much as they can into the bill because they fear losing the House, the Senate or both in the midterm elections next year. Mr. Podesta has urged lawmakers to see the package as a chance to avoid those losses by giving Democratic incumbents a batch of popular programs to run on, and also giving the president policy victories that could define his legacy.

Mr. Biden has promoted some of his policies as ways to reverse racial disparities in the economy and lift families that are struggling in the coronavirus pandemic from poverty.

“We’ve been having the hopes that politicians in Washington — Democrats and Republicans — will see not only the economic impact we can bring to the country but also we’re still people with families,” said Mr. Suasnavas, 35. “Our hearts have been broken so many times that it feels like another wound in your skin.”

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