Senate Democrats eye $6 trillion reconciliation package on infrastructure, health care and climate change
The Washington Post June 17, 2021
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are considering a sweeping, roughly $6 trillion reconciliation package that could advance key elements of President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan along with additional reforms targeting climate change and health care, aiming to sidestep likely Republican opposition on Capitol Hill.
The move could allow Democrats to adopt some of their most ambitious and controversial spending and tax plans through the Senate using 51 votes, rather than the usual 60. It comes as Democratic and Republican negotiators close in on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, as Biden has sought, though the compromise is expected to leave out many of the White House's priorities.
The Senate is evenly split 50-50, though Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tiebreaking vote.
Under the emerging reconciliation package, Democrats have said they plan to adopt key elements of Biden's two major economic packages — the $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.9 trillion American Families Plan — that are omitted from the Senate's bipartisan compromise. That potentially includes long-standing liberal spending priorities such as combating climate change, extending the expanded Child Tax Credit, and offering universal paid leave and prekindergarten, according to three people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to describe a budget resolution that is not final. They cautioned the size and scope of the plan may still change as debate proceeds and key congressional committees turn to the work of implementing it.
The reconciliation package is also expected to open the door for changes to the tax code that raise rates on corporations and high-income earners, the sources said. Biden has sought to unwind the 2017 tax cuts approved under former president Donald Trump to fund his economic agenda, a position that Republicans vehemently oppose.
But Democrats have weighed going far beyond their infrastructure and families plans. They are also considering reconciliation as an avenue to pursue changes to Medicare that would lower the eligibility age to 60 from 65, as well as major reforms that expand its coverage to include vision and dental and seek to lower prescription drug coverage, according to the three people familiar with the effort. Beyond that, Democrats have discussed a host of additional policies to reform immigration, the sources said, though the exact scope is unclear.
Multiple congressional aides cautioned the process remains fluid, particularly as talks continue on a bipartisan public-works deal. But Democrats for weeks have made clear they always planned to pursue the president's agenda on two tracks — brokering a more narrow, bipartisan compromise on infrastructure, while advancing Biden's other proposals using reconciliation. Politico first reported on some details of the package.
In doing so, though, the party still faces a new set of political headaches. Reconciliation carries significant constraints, requiring lawmakers to demonstrate that their proposals have a clear budgetary effect. That may limit the scope of what Democrats can seek, a lesson they learned earlier this year when they invoked the process to adopt a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Senate Democrats ultimately had no choice but to leave out their proposal to boost the minimum wage after the parliamentarian determined it violated chamber rules.
Some centrist Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also continue to maintain a public preference for shepherding Biden's economic agenda through Congress on a bipartisan basis. Without his support, Democrats have no path forward in the Senate, where they have only a tiebreaking majority — meaning the party must labor intensely to craft a budget resolution with broad appeal.
The high stakes prompted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday to convene the chamber's top budget-minded lawmakers to discuss the path forward on reconciliation. Schumer has said he seeks to advance infrastructure reforms in July, and many Democrats have demanded some sort of an agreement to move a reconciliation package that includes other party spending priorities at about the same time.
"I think there was universal agreement [that] we have a lot of things we have to do to help the American people, and we have to have unity to do it," Schumer said.
Exiting the meeting, the leader of the Budget Committee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., particularly pointed out Democrats' goal to "deal with climate change, deal with the needs of children and their parents, to deal with the affordable housing crisis, to also make sure that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in this country start paying their fair share of taxes."
"What government has been doing is worrying about the rich and the powerful and ignoring the middle class and working families. We intend to change this," he said.
Sanders later Wednesday confirmed that lawmakers are eyeing a reconciliation package in the range of $6 trillion, adding it “builds on the proposals that the president has brought to us.”