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Paid leave, immigration: What's likely to change as Senate weighs Build Back Better Act

A number of provisions may be revised or removed to meet the rules and keep all 50 Democratic-caucusing senators together.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's safety net and climate change package passed the House on Friday and goes to the Senate next, where it is likely to be changed before it can become law.

Some provisions of the $1.68 trillion bill may be removed or revised to win the support of all 50 Democratic-caucusing senators, from blue state progressives like Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to red state moderates like Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Other policies could be thwarted by Senate rules.

"There's going to be some changes," Tester said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're dealing with reasonable people here. I think we can come up with a bill that's a very, very good bill that works for states like Montana and other states in the union."

The Senate is expected to turn to the legislation after it returns next week from Thanksgiving recess. Before it can come to a vote, the bill will require a "Byrd bath" — a process named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., under which provisions are scrutinized for compliance with arcane budget rules. It will also require a "vote-a-rama" allowing virtually unlimited amendments, during which Republicans will seek to remove or edit provisions and force politically difficult votes.

A single successful change could disrupt or scuttle the delicate deal among Democrats, which puts extra pressure on party leaders to keep senators unified.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Saturday that he hopes to pass the bill by Christmas.

"We're in very good shape to get 50 votes," he said. "But there are different ways — parliamentarian and other ways — the Republicans could try to knock it out."

Here are the provisions that are most likely to change.

Paid leave

The House-passed legislation includes four weeks of guaranteed paid family and medical leave, a high priority of many Democrats, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cost $205 billion.

Manchin has said repeatedly that he doesn't want the policy included in the bill. In an appearance on MSNBC this month, he said the Build Back Better Act is "not the right place for this piece of legislation."

"I believe in family leave," he said, but he cautioned that it would "add an awful lot to the debt" and suggested that Congress "find a better position for this and do this in a bipartisan" manner.

Unless Manchin backs down, it's likely to be stripped out.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Sunday on CBS that she is still trying to convince her colleague. "He wants to strengthen Social Security. That's what paid leave does. It gets people back to work," she said. "It allows people to stay in the workforce even when there's a family emergency."

SALT deduction

The House-passed legislation would raise the $10,000 limit for state and local tax deductions, sometimes known as SALT, on federal returns to $80,000. A group of Democrats in high-tax states demanded it to win their support for the bill, arguing that the limit established by Republicans in 2017 taxes their middle-class constituents.

Four lawmakers — Reps. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., and Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. — celebrated the provision after the vote, saying in a joint statement that "the cap has unfairly double taxed families across the country and worked to defund our states' critical priorities."

The House provision faces resistance from senators, including Tester and Sanders, who say the $80,000 level gives too much of a tax break to the wealthy. But others, like Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., feel strongly about it, and the Senate may have to approve some expansion of the deduction to get the bill to Biden's desk.

Immigration

The House bill would grant provisional work permits to about 6.5 million undocumented people in the U.S., under a process known as parole, at a cost of more than $100 billion over a decade, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. It is a high priority of progressives and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

But it's unclear that the policy will comply with the Senate budget rules. The parliamentarian, who is likely to have the last word, has rejected two previous immigration provisions by Democrats that would offer a path to citizenship, which the House bill policy wouldn't guarantee.

Some Democratic House members say the party should include an immigration provision no matter what, but Manchin has signaled that he wants to abide by the parliamentarian's advice, and alienating him would endanger the bill's chances of passing.

The Hispanic caucus "urges the Senate to protect the work-permits and protections and we are hopeful they will use the Senate rules to build upon them and create an earned pathway to citizenship to further improve our nation's economy," Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., the caucus chair, said in a statement.

Medicare benefits

Sanders successfully pushed to add hearing benefits to Medicare in the House-passed bill. But he says he still wants dental and vision coverage, too. The three additions to Medicare coverage have been a high priority for him and progressive allies from the outset of the negotiations, and he hasn't given up.

"The American people overwhelmingly demand that we expand Medicare to cover dental, eyeglasses and hearing aids. That's what we must do," Sanders said in a statement Friday morning.

There are challenges. Adding the benefits would be expensive, particularly dental coverage. And it is a lower priority for many Democrats, who prefer to put health care money toward insuring more people through larger Affordable Care Act subsidies and filling the Medicaid gap. But if the removal of other items creates fiscal space for the Medicare benefits, they could come back into play.