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: Retirement-plan mandate, paid leave advance in Congress as bigger battles loom over $3.5 trillion spending package

House Democrats have advanced key economic-policy priorities as the party continues to craft a massive spending bill reflecting President Joe Biden’s agenda.

On Thursday, the Ways and Means Committee voted 22-20 to approve a measure requiring companies without retirement plans to enroll workers in individual retirement accounts. The same panel approved 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave, in a 24-19 vote, with just one Democrat voting no. And in a measure aimed at curbing climate change, the House Natural Resources Committee approved, in a 24-13 vote, restoring protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling.

Now read: Climate change is ‘greatest threat’ to global public health, say 200 medical journals

Also see: Congress works on adding dental benefits to Medicare — but not until 2028

Work is continuing at the committee level on Friday, with more votes planned. Democrats are hoping to include such measures in a bill the full House is aiming to pass later this month that could contain as much as $3.5 trillion in spending. The bill would overhaul areas including education, health care and climate policy, as well as taxes.

Paying for the sprawling package, meanwhile, promises to be a fierce fight, even among Democrats. On Friday, the Hill reported that a rift is beginning to emerge between the chairmen of the two tax-writing congressional committees over the size and details of plans to pay for Biden’s agenda. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts are taking different approaches to the funding mechanisms, the Hill said.

Biden has proposed raising the top tax rate for individuals, as well as boosting the corporate rate to 28% from 21%. Senate Democrats are also offering proposals including an excise tax on stock buybacks, as lawmakers look for ways to fund the $3.5 trillion package.

Republicans have slammed Democrats’ package, with the top GOP member of the Ways and Means Committee saying Thursday its entirely unnecessary.

Read: As Democrats push $3.5 trillion package, Republican lawmaker blasts ‘spending that drives up prices, kills jobs’

See MarketWatch’s coverage of inflation.

With Republicans united against Democrats’ measure, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can afford only three “no” votes when it comes to the House floor.

The provision requiring companies to provide retirement plans includes exemptions for those with five or fewer employees, as wall as for companies operating for less than two years.

U.S. stocks



were modestly lower Friday as investors weighed COVID-19 vaccine mandates announced by Biden to fight the coronavirus delta variant that some worry is slowing the economic recovery.

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