Democrats aim to reset domestic legislative agenda after Biden speech

U.S. President Biden announces initiative to buy more made-in-America goods at the White House in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden announces new steps requiring government to buy more made-in-America goods during remarks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 4, 2022.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Congressional Democrats this week will try to start salvaging the unfinished parts of U.S. President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda and respond to voters’ demands to address inflation while also bolstering high-tech jobs to compete with China.

Biden, in his State of the Union address last week, sketched out a more moderate path following a year of spending around $3 trillion to tame the COVID-19 pandemic and invest in infrastructure improvements.

It is up to the president and his fellow Democrats in Congress to figure out how to unite warring progressive and centrist wings of the party on a narrower series of domestic investments now that his $1.75 billion “Build Back Better” initiative is in ruins.

That sweeping measure would have recast American society, providing help for families to pay for child- and elder-care costs, subsidizing prekindergarten education and scores of other initiatives, such as renewing an expanded child tax credit for lower-income families.

Biden provided strong hints of where he now would like to see Congress move in the months leading up to the Nov. 8 elections that will determine whether his party maintains control of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Priorities include reducing the high cost of prescription drugs such as insulin, combating climate change through tax incentives to make homes and businesses more energy-efficient while weaning Americans off of autos that guzzle ever-more-expensive gasoline and raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for these initiatives.

Early on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to fellow Democrats noting $1 billion in new Federal Trade Commission funding being sought to help the agency “crack down on companies who use market concentration to gouge consumers.”

FTC officials testified to Congress last month about steps it was taking to police “predators” they said were capitalizing on the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud consumers.

In his letter, Schumer noted the added funding, if approved, would help the FTC take action against price gouging “in areas like oil and gas, prescription drugs and more.”

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are facing a midnight Friday deadline for reaching a deal on a massive bill that would fund the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year. It would include money for the FTC.

In a Senate speech on Thursday, Schumer, a Democrat, took Biden’s lead in calling for “lowering costs while building on the wage and job growth” of the past year.

Senate Republicans, however, could stand in the way of some of these initiatives, citing rising budget deficits. That could prompt Democrats to revisit using a special procedure known as “reconciliation” to pass some legislation without Republican support.

Democrats will try to hash out the road ahead in annual retreats they are holding this week. Biden is expected to make his case to senators holding a retreat in Washington on Wednesday and on Friday at a final session of a three-day meeting of House Democrats in Philadelphia.