After Dropping Free Community College Plan, Democrats Explore Options

WASHINGTON — On the campaign trail, Joseph R. Biden Jr. heavily promoted his plan to offer tuition-free community college. He pitched the proposal as crucial to his economic agenda — a way to rebuild the middle class, which he called the “backbone” of America.

Nine months into his presidency, Mr. Biden has conceded that the plan is dead for now, a concession to moderate Democrats whose votes are crucial to passing a pared-back version of a sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate bill.

At a CNN town hall on Thursday, Mr. Biden said the provision had to be dropped after Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia “and one other person” indicated that they would not support free community college. Instead, Mr. Biden said Democrats would focus on increasing the maximum federal Pell grant award and other forms of tuition assistance.

“It’s not going to get us there,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s not going to get us the whole thing, but it is a start.”

The bill would have committed $45.5 billion to waive two years of tuition at community colleges for a period of five years. States would have to opt in, and the federal government would cover the cost of the program for the first year. The federal contribution would decrease by 5 percent each year after that, with states covering the rest.

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