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Biden says he'd be willing to eliminate filibuster to pass voting rights and "maybe more"

President Biden ventured a step further in favor of eliminating the filibuster in some instances, after this week saw the defeat of voting rights legislation in the Senate, and the nation earlier this month teetered on the brink of default because of a Senate standoff over raising the debt limit. 

In a town-hall-style event Thursday with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Mr. Biden said he would be open to doing away with the filibuster in order to pass voting rights and "maybe more." He indicated the debt ceiling may be one issue worth considering for dispensing with the filibuster. Mr. Biden appears to be more open than he's been in the past to changing the filibuster. This exceeds his previous position that the Senate should reinstate the "talking" filibuster, that is, physically standing on the floor and filibustering in person.

Action on the filibuster isn't imminent, though, given the tenuous political realities of the social safety net spending he's negotiating right now. Mr. Biden told Cooper, "If, in fact, I get myself into — at this moment — the debate on the filibuster, I lose at least three votes right now to get what I have to get done on the economic side of the equation." He said focusing on the American Rescue Plan, infrastructure and social spending bill had come at the expense of passing police reform and a voting rights law — and it was the greatest regret of his presidency so far. 

The possibility of killing the filibuster is also unlikely to happen any time soon, too, because it's not an idea that has the support of all the Democrats in the Senate. 

Biden
President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall at the Baltimore Center Stage Pearlstone Theater, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Baltimore. Evan Vucci / AP

Asked whether he thought he was close to a deal on his social safety net legislation, the Build Back Better bill,  Mr. Biden said, "I think so...I do think I will get a deal." The negotiations have been tough, Mr. Biden said, but not as tough as the negotiations over the assault weapons ban in the 1990s.  

Two moderate Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, are towing the moderate line and forcing the party toward a less costly bill, originally $3.5 trillion and now somewhere in the vicinity of $1.9 - $2.2 trillion. Mr. Biden outlined the lines Sinema has drawn, calling her "smart as the devil." He said she is supportive of the environmental issues and family care provisions in the BBB bill. But she's opposed to paying for those programs by raising corporate tax rates or taxing the wealthy.  

He seemed to concede that a tax rate increase on those making over $400,000 will not be in the final bill.  

Mr. Biden also said he does not support a Manchin-backed work requirement for the child tax credit extension.  

Federal paid leave has been trimmed, he noted, saying that the reason the proposal now calls for four weeks is "because we couldn't get 12." 

Mr. Biden also conceded free community college will not be part of the reconciliation package, but there would likely be a $500 increase to Pell Grants. "It's a start," he said. "We are gonna get free community college in the next several years," he vowed.

Will dental, vision and hearing coverage be added to Medicare? "That's a reach," Biden replied, likely to the chagrin of Senator Bernie Sanders, who is the biggest proponent of this provision. It's possible a voucher, perhaps $800 for dental services, for instance, could be included in the bill. Manchin and Sinema are opposed to using Medicare for these provisions, Mr. Biden said, and then added that Manchin is not a bad guy and has always come around and voted with Democrats. 

Mr. Biden did not explicitly say the Clean Energy Performance Program (CEPP), a provision to incentivize utilities to provide more renewable energy and reduce fossil fuels, is out of the BBB bill because of Manchin's objections, but he may as well have. He has countered by proposing the $150 billion originally designated for CEPP be reallocated toward incentivizing purchases of solar panels, energy efficient windows and battery technology.  

With 50 Democrats in the Senate, Biden observed, "Everyone is a president." 

Despite the trims and cuts that are still being negotiated, the president called the BBB bill a "bigger darn deal" than the passage of Obamacare which he infamously called a "big f****** deal." 

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