Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders met Monday with President Biden about an upcoming budget reconciliation bill that Democrats hope to ram through Congress alongside a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Sanders (I-Vt.), who recently outlined a massive $6 trillion reconciliation blueprint, gave away few details about his talk with Biden but told reporters at the White House, “the majority of the Democratic caucus wants to go as big as possible.”
The self-declared democratic socialist said “what we are trying to do is transformative. Legislation that the president and I are supporting would go further to improve the lives of working people than any legislation since the 1930s.”
But Democrats face a mathematical challenge in the evenly divided Senate where centrist Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia have expressed concern about a gigantic bill that would include many items left out of the bipartisan deal.
Democrats also face confusion about leverage after the brokering of the bipartisan deal. Biden flip-flopped on whether he would sign the bipartisan bill without a second single-party reconciliation bill, which can be jammed through the Senate with a simple majority.
Biden at first said the second bill must pass as well, before walking that back and saying it wasn’t a veto threat. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has stood by her threat to block the bipartisan plan unless the Senate passes a reconciliation bill, too.
“There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” Pelosi said last month.
Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote in the Senate, and in the narrowly divided House a group of New York-area Democrats led by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) are threatening to derail any tax-code changes, which would pay for the reconciliation bill with tax hikes on higher incomes, businesses and investments, unless there’s a repeal of the 2017 so-called SALT cap that limited the amount of state and local taxes residents of high-tax jurisdictions like New York could deduct before paying federal taxes.
Biden originally proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and a complementary $1.8 trillion “families” plan. Republicans said the bills were too costly and vowed to block social spending and tax increases. Although Biden says he will continue to push the “families” proposal, elements of that plan are likely to be included in the reconciliation bill.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said that the timing is unclear on when there would be decisions on bill wordings and dates for votes. The bipartisan bill’s language, in fact, is still being written nearly three weeks after the deal was reached.
“I talked to [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer and he was not specific on when it’s going to come. Our goal is to make real progress on it during this July, August period,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the infrastructure bill.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was a leader in the bipartisan talks, said it’s unlikely that the compromise bill will be finished this week.
Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that there’s been “very good progress” on the bipartisan bill, while the Senate Budget Committee led by Sanders “is close to finalizing a Budget Resolution which will allow the Senate to move forward with the remaining parts of the American Jobs and Families Plan.”
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal would be Biden’s second major legislative achievement, following a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats rammed through Congress in March without a single Republican vote using special budget reconciliation rules that bypass the typical 60-vote requirement in the Senate.
The bipartisan compromise includes $109 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, $65 billion for broadband internet, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $49 billion for public transport, $47 billion for infrastructure resilience, $25 billion for airports, $7.5 billion for electric buses and $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
Biden’s original infrastructure plan called for $400 billion for home and community health care and $174 billion to subsidize electric vehicles. Neither made the cut.
The “families” plan proposed by Biden separately pitched $511 billion for universal preschool and free community college, $225 billion for child care subsidies that cap expenses at 7 percent of income and $225 billion to subsidize 12 weeks of paid parental and sick leave, as well as about $800 billion in tax credits, including $200 billion for ObamaCare users and more to make permanent the recent expansion of child tax credits — from $2,000 per year to $3,000, or $3,600 for children under age 6.