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US House set to vote Friday on Biden's S$2.37 trillion economic package

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The House plans to vote Friday (Nov 6) on President Joe Biden’s US$1.75 trillion (S$2.37 trillion) economic package and a separate infrastructure bill, after intense 11th-hour negotiations by Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to settle lingering differences.

A vote on the massive tax and spending measure follows months of intra-party tension and disputes that carried into late Thursday night.

Although much of the bill had been written, there were last- minute changes on modifying the state and local income tax deduction and a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Approval of the infrastructure measure, already passed by the Senate, will send it directly to Mr Biden’s desk.

House passage of both measures would deliver a much-needed victory for the president, whose approval ratings have plummeted.

A stunning loss for Democrats in the Virginia gubernatorial race and an unexpectedly close call for the incumbent governor of New Jersey generated fresh impetus for the party’s lawmakers to finish work on both the economic package, known as Build Back Better, and an infrastructure measure.

Mr Biden has been directly involved in negotiating with House and Senate Democrats and he made calls to House members on Thursday asking them to vote yes when the bill comes to the floor, a White House official said.

Plans for the vote advanced after Ms Pelosi told three potential holdouts, Representatives Adriano Espaillat of New York, Chuy García of Illinois and Lou Correa of California, that she would make protections for immigrants a top priority once the House finishes with Biden’s economic priorities.

The current text of the broad tax and spending bill includes a parole option that would provide work authorisation and deportation protections for some undocumented immigrants. But a more expansive measure likely wouldn’t survive in the Senate.

“All options remain on the table, but we are not drafting new language,” Mr Garcia said in a statement.

“Speaker Pelosi shares our concerns for the immigrant community, recognises their contributions and is committed to keeping immigration in play.”

A last-minute change to the tax and spending plan involved the federal deduction for state and local taxes, or SALT. Instead of moving forward with a proposal to lift the US$10,000 SALT cap to US$72,500 through 2031, the bill will now raise it to US$80,000 through 2030 according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

The cap would snap back to US$10,000 in 2031. Compared to current law where there is no cap after 2025, the provision would raise US$14.8 billion in revenue over 10 years.

The Senate is expected to make its own changes to the SALT proposal. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Bob Menendez of New Jersey have proposed an unlimited cap but would cut off access to the deduction for people with incomes above US$400,000 to US$500,000.

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On drug pricing, Democrats have agreed to give some drugs an extra year of exemption from price negotiations, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The change means biologic drugs won’t be subject to government price negotiation until 13 years after they are approved for use, one year longer than in the provision that was initially written into the legislation.

That revision was made after Representative Scott Peters of California and Kathleen Rice of New York raised concerns about the language in the legislation and met with Pelosi.

While the House would be giving final passage to the infrastructure legislation, the economic package still faces hurdles – and changes – in the Senate. If the legislation is modified there, as expected, it would have to go back to the House for another vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said senators would strive to act on the legislation “before Thanksgiving,” which falls on Nov 25.

But even that schedule may be ambitious. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who has fought to trim the size of the package, continues to object to provisions favored by the House, such as paid family leave and immigration. He also said he wants a clearer assessment of the impact of the expansive tax and spending package on inflation and debt.

“I have a lot of concerns, let’s put it that way,” Mr Manchin said Wednesday night on Fox News. “They’re working off the House bill. That’s not going to be the bill I work off of.”

Mr Schumer said he spoke to Mr Manchin Thursday and they both agreed to “work diligently over the break” to come up with something that can be supported by all 50 Democrats in the Senate, which will be out next week.

“There are various sticking points,” he added.

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