In what appears to be a major concession to moderate Democrats, President Joe Biden reportedly told House progressives Tuesday that tuition-free community college will not be included in the final version of a multitrillion-dollar spending bill to fund the president's economic and climate agenda.
CNN reported Tuesday that Biden discussed a $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion top line figure for his spending bill, which Senate Democrats hope to pass via budget reconciliation to dodge the 60-vote requirement imposed by the filibuster. Those numbers are more in line with the $1.5 trillion figure demanded by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who's vote is needed in the 50-50 Senate to pass any legislation.
From that advantageous position, Manchin has successfully prevented the Senate from advancing the original $3.5 trillion spending package supported by progressives, which included free community college as well as Medicare expansion, expanded child tax credits, paid family leave, and a watered-down version of the Green New Deal.
To cut the costs of the bill down to a level Manchin would support, Biden reportedly told House Democrats that in addition to dropping free community college, the child tax credit will only be expanded for one year — far shorter than what progressives had wanted. The child tax credit will also be means tested, which Manchin had demanded.
Other concessions include reducing proposed funding for so-called homecare for the elderly and disabled to less than $250 billion, down from $400 billion. Paid leave benefits might only last four weeks, down from a proposed 12 weeks.
Democrats still plan to expand Medicare to cover hearing, dental, and vision plans, and according to several House progressives, the bill will include some form of higher education aid if not free tuition.
"There will be something for higher education, but it probably won't be the free community college," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Tuesday, said after CNN reported the details of the meeting with Biden. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead" that Biden would include "community college scholarships" in the bill.
The idea of free public college tuition was once a fringe idea promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination but has since become something of a litmus test for Democratic candidates with the progressive base. Biden endorsed the idea on the 2020 campaign trail and it has since become a top priority for the White House, which also wants universal pre-kindergarten paid for by U.S. taxpayers. But the cost of that program may prove too great for moderates like Manchin or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to support.
The announcement of key compromises follows an Axios report detailing Manchin's "red lines," the changes he says are necessary to earn his support for the reconciliation bill. Manchin has reportedly told the White House that the child tax credit expansion must include a work requirement and be capped so that only families making up to $60,000 annually will be eligible to receive the benefit.
Manchin's firm position that the spending bill shouldn't be more than $1.5 trillion has led to rebuke from progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who accused him of "killing the bill" in an angry tweet sent Tuesday.
Progressives may boo and hiss, but as long as they don't compromise even further to win Republican support for their spending bill, they'll need every Democratic senator's vote to pass it. That means giving Manchin most of what he wants or having no bill at all.