U.S. House panel sets debate this week on its portion of $3.5 trillion bill By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol Building is pictured in Washington, U.S., August 20, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. House of Representatives committee this week will attempt to advance sweeping legislation to expand healthcare benefits for the elderly and other social services as part of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion domestic investment plan.

The House Ways and Means Committee plans to debate its wide-ranging measure that also would expand Medicare health coverage for the elderly to include dental, vision and hearing benefits in work sessions on Thursday and Friday.

The measure, which is expected to draw lock-step opposition from Republicans, also would provide up to 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave for all U.S. workers.

“Later this week, the Ways and Means Committee will put an end to the idea that only some workers are worthy of ‘perks’ like paid leave, child care, and assistance in saving for retirement, and finally commit to investments that make these supports fixtures of the American workplace,” committee Chairman Richard Neal said in a statement.

But already there was talk of reducing the $3.5 trillion price of the legislation.

A series of other House panels in coming days will be working on their respective portions of a package that Democrats hope will win House approval late this month.

It then would move to the Senate, where Democrats plan to use a special procedure known as “reconciliation https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-congress-reconciliation-explainer-idCAKBN2FB1Q7,” allowing them to pass the legislation by a simple majority vote instead of the 60 votes needed to advance most bills in the 100-member chamber.

Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and the Senate is split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will have to work hard to get Democratic moderates on board, possibly by reducing the overall $3.5 trillion in spending https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senate-poised-pass-1-trillion-infrastructure-bill-debate-35-trillion-budget-2021-08-10 that would be offset by tax increases for corporations and the wealthy.

Democratic leaders also will have to be careful not to lose the support of the more ambitious progressive wing of the party.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters in Kentucky, blasted the Democrats’ initiative, which aims to use federal dollars to improve childcare facilities and nursing home care, as a “$3.5 trillion to $5 trillion tax increase on the American people.”

A lobbyist familiar with internal deliberations on Capitol Hill said in a telephone interview that there was optimism among congressional Democrats that a bill would get passed and sent to President Joe Biden for signing into law.

But such a bill is more likely to be in the range of around $2 trillion, said the lobbyist, who asked not to be identified.

While the various House committees are likely to approve bills that would total $3.5 trillion, that number would get whittled down before the legislation is sent to the full House for debate and passage, the source said.

That could mean that any proposed tax increases on the wealthy and corporations would not have to be as steep as initially envisioned.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asked by a CNN reporter about Democratic Senator Joe Manchin last week urging a “pause” in consideration of the massive investment bill, said, “We’re on a good timetable,” referring to fast committee work. She did not reject the possibility of the bill ending up costing less than $3.5 trillion, however.