Democrats wrestle with tough choices as budget plans are scaled back

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a news conference following Senate Democrat Policy Luncheons in Washington on Oct. 5, 2021.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — We’ve been covering some of the tough choices Democrats need to make to pass their Build Back Better plan, which is expected to shed at least $1 trillion over 10 years to appease centrist holdouts.

One problem negotiators face is that not every policy works in isolation. Take one example that’s caught in the budget crosshairs — child care. Biden’s Build Back Better includes two major new benefits, universal prekindergarten for 3-4 year-olds and a new daycare entitlement for younger children.

The current plan calls for $450 billion over 10 years. That’s big, but not so massive they can’t both potentially make it into a smaller bill. The U.S. spends a tiny fraction of what similar governments do on toddlers, so there’s clear room for more funding.

One way to cut costs (suggested by centrist group PPI in First Read last week) would be to do universal pre-K and punt on the rest. Axios reports Manchin is more enthusiastic about pre-K than a new child care entitlement, so that’s another point in its favor.

The trouble is addressing one issue could make the other worse off than it was before.

Research suggests universal pre-K drives up costs for private daycare by competing with existing providers for slots and staff. Infants also require more staff and attention than pre-K kids, meaning if daycare centers don’t receive additional funding, some may need to raise prices or go out of business.

“You squeeze one end of the balloon, and it has unintended and costly consequences on the other end,” Rasheed Malik, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, told First Read.

A 2018 Princeton study found New York City’s popular universal pre-K program led to 2,700 fewer private day care slots due to closures. Any decline would be especially dangerous now, Malik warned, because the pandemic has put tremendous new strains on child care.

This doesn't mean Democrats can't find savings. They could charge higher-income families more, which progressives dislike. They could also make funding temporary, which progressive leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. has floated. The risks are that a future Congress might not renew it, and that states, communities and institutions eligible for funding may be less quick to accept it if they think they’ll be cut off later. But it may be better than eliminating either program entirely.

“From what I've seen, many states are eager to expand pre-K and would still welcome additional federal funding regardless of the length of time,” Laura Bornfreund, Director of Early & Elementary Education Policy at New America, told First Read.

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

More than 2,000: How many flights Southwest Airlines has cancelled since Saturday amid air traffic control and weather issues.

18: The number of weather events costing at least $1 billion to recover from that have hit America this year.

36 percent: The percentage of workers in 10 major cities tracked by Kastle Systems who returned to in-person office work as of last week, the highest since the start of the pandemic, per the Wall Street Journal.

38 percent: The portion of Americans who said they face serious financial problems over the past few months, amid the Delta variant surge, per a new NPR poll.

57 percent: The portion of Latinos who said they faced recent, serious financial problems in that same poll, along with 56 percent of Blacks.

44,501,037: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 110,975 more since yesterday morning.)

719,057: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 897 more since yesterday morning.)

Three weeks to go in Virginia

We are now exactly three weeks out from Virginia’s competitive gubernatorial contest — as well as its races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and control of the House of Delegates.

Today, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe campaigns in Richmond with Mayor Levar Stoney and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (who ran against McAuliffe for the Democratic nomination).

On Friday, McAuliffe stumps with First Lady Jill Biden in Henrico County (just outside of Richmond).

And on Sunday, McAuliffe will be with Stacey Abrams in Northern Virginia (after Abrams helps with a “Souls to the Polls” event in Norfolk, Va.)

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin holds a rally in Culpepper, Va., and then does a “Law Enforcement Appreciation” rally in Lynchburg, Va., later that afternoon.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is banning Covid vaccination requirements through executive order.

Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden resigns over racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails.

There’s a battle brewing over a Democratic proposal for banks to turn over significant amounts of data over to the IRS.

The House is voting Tuesday to finalize its debt limit deal.