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Top Democrat touts 'significant progress' in social safety net bill negotiations

After a closed-door caucus meeting, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said Democrats are moving closer to reaching an agreement on a social spending bill.

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders signaled Wednesday that discussions over social safety net legislation to deliver on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda are advancing as negotiators identify items they plan to cut from the package.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters after a closed-door caucus meeting that “significant progress has been made” in recent days on what should stay in the legislation and what should be curtailed or removed altogether.

“We are all feeling very positive about the coming together that is clearly occurring as we land these planes,” Jeffries said at a press conference.

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., who serves as assistant speaker, added that Democrats “are making progress” after the meetings with Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the White House on Tuesday.

Clark argued that the legislative package would “cut costs in half” for families who pay for childcare by providing free universal preschool for three and four-year-olds, creating a national paid family leave program, expanding Medicaid and extending the child tax credit.

Asked about whether extending the tax credit for just one year and providing only four weeks of paid family leave is enough, Clark insisted that the child tax credit remains a priority for Democratic lawmakers and the president.

She went on to say that Biden was “resolute” in his commitment to reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030, adding that there would be a “sizable investment in climate,” but without providing details. A key component of Biden's clean energy agenda is expected to be dropped from the final bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was asked at a separate press conference Wednesday about the paid leave program and free community college being scaled back in the bill and said those details were “news to me,” emphasizing that no final decisions have been made.

Two sources familiar with the meeting Biden held with progressive lawmakers on Tuesday said tuition-free community college would be taken out of the legislation and they would also reduce the child tax credit to only a one-year extension.

Biden told progressives Tuesday night that he is eyeing a price range of $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion for the final package, three sources familiar with the meeting said. The sources warned, however, that there was no final deal yet.

The president met separately Tuesday with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who have voiced opposition to certain provisions in the $3.5 trillion package, as well as its price tag.

Asked about a report Wednesday that said Manchin is planning to leave the Democratic Party, the senator told reporters, "It's bulls---."

While Pelosi set an Oct. 31 deadline earlier this month to hold a vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, the fate of which is tied to the social spending measure, Jeffries said Wednesday that neither the White House nor House Democrats are operating on a specific timeline for negotiations.