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Centrist Democrats outline a scaled-back budget bill

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.
The light in the cupola of the Capitol Dome is illuminated, indicating that work continues in Congress, on Oct. 6, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

WASHINGTON — As Democrats begin to contemplate cuts to their $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” bill, the centrist Progressive Policy Institute took a crack at a $2 trillion version this week.

It’s one of the more detailed pitches for a smaller bill so far, and there’s some overlap between the group’s perspective and holdouts like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., so it’s worth taking a look at how they got there.

First off, the plan rejects an approach floated by progressive leaders to fund more programs on a temporary basis and dare Republicans to shoot them down later.

“Think back to the Affordable Care Act and how different 2017 might have gone if instead of Republicans voting to repeal it, they could have sat on their hands while benefits expired,” Ben Ritz, the PPI report’s author, told First Read. “I think you create a significant risk that these programs deliver benefits for a couple of years, people come to depend on them, and then they expire all of a sudden.”

Manchin has also expressed skepticism toward temporary programs on deficit grounds, a concern that Ritz also shares.

But getting to a tighter permanent bill comes at a steep cost. Several major planks of the Biden plan are gone entirely — home care for the elderly and disabled, free community college, and over $300 billion for affordable housing.

Instead, the PPI’s no-frills plan consists of a $975 billion “working families” bucket, a $600 billion climate bucket, and $425 billion for health care.

The centerpiece of the “working families” package: A permanent version of the child tax credit, which would likely need to be scaled back significantly. Universal pre-K, but without child-care subsidies (one of the hardest cuts, said Ritz). And if there’s anything left, a much smaller parental leave benefit.

Climate would include tax credits for green tech and a clean energy standard for utilities. Manchin is a skeptic of requiring utilities to move toward renewables, so they suggest a carbon tax as a fallback, which Democrats are also politically wary of passing.

Finally, health care would be narrowed to a boost to the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, a public option for individuals who can’t get Medicaid in their state, and some measures to contain health care costs. Dropped entirely: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to provide dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare recipients. Who else sounds skeptical of the Sanders proposal? Manchin yet again.

“We think it’s more important to give people who don’t have access to affordable coverage health care rather than extend care to people who already have it,” Ritz said.

All in all, it’s a plausible framework. It’s also consistent with what House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told one of us — that the package should focus more on young people, not older ones.

For another approach, check out Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, who tried to stitch together his own $1.5 trillion plan.

Punting the debt ceiling crisis to December

The Senate is nearing a deal to punt the debt ceiling crisis to December, NBC’s Capitol Hill team reports.

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not block a debt limit extension into December, in a tentative deal to temporarily end a partisan standoff just 12 days before the government's deadline to avert default,” Sahil Kapur, Teaganne Finn, Garrett Haake and Leigh Ann Caldwell write.

“Democrats appeared prepared to accept the offer to extend the limit until December, according to multiple Democratic senators and two senior Republican aides.”

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

260,000: The number of African children who die each year from malaria. The World Health Organization is backing a new malaria vaccine for children, hoping to limit those deaths.

140,000: The estimated number of children who have had a parent or grandparent caregiver die from Covid.

$1 billion: The White House’s new investment in at-home, rapid Covid tests ahead of the holiday season.

44,094,759: 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 116,984 more since yesterday morning.)

712,325: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,276 more since yesterday morning.)

398,675,414: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 957,359 more since yesterday morning.)

56.1 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

67.5 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Gun control group launches election effort in Virginia

In addition to its competitive gubernatorial contest this November, Virginia will see control of its House of Delegates up for grabs next month. And the pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund tells First Read that it's launching a $500,000 campaign in those races.

Democrats currently hold a narrow majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

The Everytown Action Fund campaign includes digital and direct-mail ads in eight swing districts.

"We count on our elected leaders to keep our families safe,” one of these digital ads goes. “Yet Virginia Republican politicians like Tim Anderson sided with the gun lobby and want to roll back common-sense gun safety laws.”

Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund also has released polling from the Dem firm Schoen Cooperman Research, which shows a majority (56 percent) of statewide likely voters saying gun violence prevention is very important.

And among those likely voters who believe violent crime is increasing in Virginia, another majority (51 percent) say it has made them more supportive of strengthening gun laws.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A federal judge has temporarily blocked Texas’ strict abortion law, pending appeal.

U.S. officials knew as early as July that thousands of Haitians were considering migrating to the U.S., sources tell NBC News.

Doctors disagree over whether previous Covid infection creates the same immune protection as a vaccine.

A new Senate report, slated to be released this week, fleshes out more details about how then-President Trump pushed for ways to overturn the election.

Axios reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t join a draft statement condemning protesters who followed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema into the restroom, because it wouldn’t include an edit from Sanders’ office criticizing Sinema’s position on reconciliation.

Politico reports that former President Trump’s 2019 trip to Walter Reed was for a routine colonoscopy, not anything more serious.