Senate Democrats approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution early Wednesday morning, setting the stage in the weeks and months to come for the party to craft and attempt to pass a sweeping economic package expanding the social safety net that President Joe Biden has made a signature agenda item without the threat of a filibuster from Republicans who oppose it.
The Democratic-controlled House must next take up and pass the budget resolution. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sent a letter to colleagues Tuesday saying the chamber planned to return the week of August 23 to consider the budget resolution.
Passage of the budget resolution by both chambers will unlock the ability for Democrats to use a process known as budget reconciliation to pass legislation on a party-line vote addressing health care, aid for families, the climate crisis and more. Tuesday’s vote is only the first step in what will be a lengthy process. The resolution needs to be approved by both chambers before Democrats can move on to the reconciliation plan, which still must be drafted and will be considered in the fall.
Democrats will need to put together the far-reaching legislative package in such a way so as to ensure the backing of every Senate Democrat from the moderates to the progressives. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cannot afford to lose a single vote within his caucus in the 50-50 partisan split chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties.
The effort to keep every Democrat in line will put leadership to the test, and there are already signs of the major challenge ahead.
Moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has already said that she does not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion, though she has signaled she is willing to negotiate. Republicans have denounced the plan as a reckless spending spree for liberal priorities.
Democrats will also be subject to constraints on what they can include under the budget reconciliation process. Provisions have to directly impact the budget, and the Senate parliamentarian may rule that certain priorities cannot be included as a result. The parliamentarian is responsible for advising the chamber on how its rules, protocols and precedents operate.
The budget resolution, which Senate Democrats formally unveiled on Monday, serves as a blueprint for what they expect to include in the far-reaching package and it sets a target date of September 15 for committees to submit their reconciliation legislation.
According to a summary of the resolution, Democrats plan to invest in four major categories: families, climate, health care, and infrastructure and jobs. Among other provisions, the measure seeks to establish universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and make community college tuition-free for two years. It calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps, adds new dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare coverage and would make a “historic level” of investment in affordable housing. The resolution also aims to lower the cost of prescription drugs and provide “green cards to millions of immigrant workers and families.”
Congressional Democrats are pursuing a dual-track strategy to passing major infrastructure and economic legislation and have worked to advance both bipartisan and partisan packages. Earlier on Tuesday, the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill following painstaking and drawn-out negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and the Biden administration. The push to pass a separate legislative package on a party-line vote will allow Democrats to enact key Biden priorities left out of the bipartisan deal that go beyond the traditional definition of physical infrastructure.
The Senate Budget Committee says the investments of the reconciliation package will be fully offset by a combination of new tax revenues, health care savings and long-term economic growth. The instructions also list corporate and international tax revisions and Internal Revenue Service tax enforcement as options – both of which Republicans shot down in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. A memorandum to Democratic senators sent Monday specifies that new taxes on families making less than $400,000 a year, small businesses and family farms would be prohibited.
Schumer has pushed back against GOP criticism of the high price tag of the package, saying on Monday, “We plan to pay for this package by making the wealthy pay their fair share.”
“The Democratic budget will be the most significant legislation for American families since the era of the New Deal and the Great Society. It is big, bold change. The kind of change America thirsts for,” he said.
Schumer argued that the core of Democrats’ sweeping plan is “restoring the middle class in the 21st century and giving more Americans the opportunity to get there.”