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Biden’s Framework Was Cut, but It Could Still Have a Big Impact

The legislative process is rarely pretty. It highlights political divisions and can feel disconnected from people’s lives. When a big bill is making its way through Congress, voters are often turned off.

The central piece of President Biden’s agenda has followed the pattern. It has caused squabbles among Democrats, and the plan has already shrunk nearly by half, disappointing progressives, amusing Republicans and providing grist for critical media coverage.

Eventually, though, the process behind a bill’s passage tends to fade into history. What matters far more is a bill’s substance. And if Congress passes anything resembling the legislative framework that Biden announced yesterday, it will be highly consequential.

That was the main message I heard from policy experts yesterday when I asked them to assess the framework. Compared with Biden’s original proposal, it looks paltry. Compared with the status quo, it looks like a big deal.

“This is not going to solve every problem, but it is going to change people’s lives,” Megan Curran of Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy told me.

The bill would sharply cut child poverty; reduce child-care and health care expenses by thousands of dollars a year for many families; enroll more children in pre-K; provide more people with health insurance; finance the building of one million affordable housing units; and slow climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Because they started big, there’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, it’s disappointing’ — but it’s huge,” said Jane Waldfogel, a longtime scholar of children and families. “If you had told us a year ago that there was going to be a bill this fall that would have an extension of the child tax credit, big funding for child care, pre-K, health care, et cetera, I would have said, ‘In your dreams.’”

There are a few important caveats:

  • One, major provisions did fall out of the bill, including paid leave, drug-price reductions and several tax increases on the wealthy. “No one got everything they wanted, including me,” Biden said yesterday, before leaving on a trip to Rome.

  • Two, the political impact may be modest, especially in the short term. Democrats remain underdogs to keep congressional control next year.

  • Three — most importantly — a framework is not the same thing as a law, as my colleague Carl Hulse notes. Some members of Congress are still trying to make changes, and Democrats will have to remain almost completely unified to pass a bill.

Below is a breakdown of the biggest pieces of the $1.8 trillion, 10-year plan, assuming it passes in something like its current form.

Biden has vowed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 50 percent by the end of this decade, relative to 2005 levels. Many scientists consider that to be a good target, one that would let the U.S. do its part to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Biden’s original legislative proposal would have come very close to achieving that goal, Coral Davenport, a Times reporter, says. But Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed a provision to retire coal and natural-gas plants. The remaining climate package — mostly tax credits to reduce pollution — will likely get the country about halfway to Biden’s goal. (Here is Coral’s full analysis.)

“The package is really strong,” Nat Keohane, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told me. “We’re going to need more.”

For Biden to achieve the rest of his emissions goal, his administration would need to regulate pollution more aggressively, and states would need to pass their own clean-energy bills.

Today, slightly more than half of pre-school-age children attend a program; the Biden framework would aim to make preschool universally available. It would also increase the maximum Pell grant — the largest college financial-aid program — by $550. And it would cap the amount of money that families spend on child care at 7 percent of their income; today, the average for families that have young children and pay for care is about 13 percent.

“The investments in preschool and child care have the potential to reshape American education,” Erica Greenberg of the Urban Institute told me. One unknown, her colleague Matthew Chingos said, is whether the bill will manage to lift the quality of the education programs it funds. In both pre-K and higher education, many schools are excellent — and many others perform poorly.

Another question: Will a future Congress extend the bill’s child tax credit — which is worth up to $3,600 per child per year and crucial to the projected reduction of child poverty? To hold down the bill’s cost, the Democrats’ framework allows the expanded credit to expire next year. They are hoping that the provision proves too popular for Republicans to block in the future.

The framework sets out to fix two problems with Obamacare — by expanding Medicaid in the 12 states that have not already done so, and by reducing the cost of private health insurance for middle- and lower-income people who buy it on the Obamacare exchanges.

Jason Furman, an economist and former adviser to Barack Obama, cited these improvements in a Twitter thread pointing out the benefits of passing legislation that is flawed but “much better than nothing.” Future policymakers can build off the successes of earlier legislation and also fix its problems — which is a reason to celebrate Biden’s framework, he suggested.

The framework would also add hearing coverage to Medicare, expand in-home care for older adults and disabled Americans, and raise wages for home health care workers.

The bill would not add to the deficit, White House officials claim, because of tax increases on corporations and the affluent — although the most ambitious tax increases on the wealthy did not survive the negotiations.

The framework does include a minimum tax on corporations, to prevent them from using so many deductions and loopholes that they pay little tax. It also raises income taxes on the very affluent, with a 5 percent surcharge on household income above $10 million and another 3 percent on income above $25 million.

For more: Eric Levitz of New York Magazine criticizes the cutting of popular provisions from the plan, like drug-price reductions.

In theaters: “Last Night in Soho,” which explores the darker side of 1960s London, is a “sumptuous and surprising horror movie,” Jeannette Catsoulis writes. In “Antlers,” a wendigo — a man-eating creature from Algonquin folklore — terrorizes a small town. Or for something weird, there’s “Lamb,” an Icelandic film about a childless couple who adopt a creature.

Watch at home: “What We Do in the Shadows” is a mockumentary comedy film about ancient vampire housemates coping with modern life. For a scarier take on the faux-documentary, try the Thai film “The Medium,” about a film crew in search of a female shaman. (Here are more streaming options.)

Family-friendly: “ParaNorman” is a “cuddly-creepy film” about a precocious boy, his ghostly friends and a looming zombie apocalypse, Erik Piepenburg writes.

And if you’re in New York, here’s a guide to Halloween festivities. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer

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