Senate Dems Reach $3.5 Trillion Infrastructure Reconciliation Deal, Probably!
Is it Infrastructure Week again? Guess so! Except for how that phrase used to mean "Let Donald Trump pretend he's driving a truck, vroom! vroom!" Now there's actually some progress being made on that "two track" approach to getting most of Joe Biden's two big infrastructure proposals passed. One part, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, is getting closer to being a real bill, with Democratic and Republican negotiators aiming for having most remaining differences hammered out by Thursday, they hope. And if not by Thursday, well, they'll keep working on it.
The other track of the infrastructure deal, a budget reconciliation bill that can be passed with 50 Democratic votes in the Senate and a tie-breaker by VP Kamala Harris, got a lot closer to reality last night, as Senate Democratic leaders said they'd reached a framework for a $3.5 trillion package that would include Democratic priorities that Republicans would never vote for, like expanding Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing care, paid family leave, measures to address the climate crisis, two years of free community college, and other items that generally fall under what's being called "human infrastructure."
So far, that deal is mostly a broad outline for a shell of a budget bill that can be passed quickly by Democrats in the House and Senate. Then the real details of a full reconciliation bill would be worked out come September, because Senate procedure is insane. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) says his goal is to get both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the shell budget bill passed before Congress takes its August recess. He's also threatened to keep the Senate in session to get that done, so that's a hell of an incentive.
Mind you, there's still a lot that can go wrong on either track, sending the infrastructure train plunging off the rails, screeching to an unexpected halt, or simply getting shunted off on a siding labeled "Antiquated Senate Procedure" if you're a hack political cartoonist.
Let's start with that bipartisan bill, which has about $600 billion in new spending. That one focuses primarily on stuff that very cautious moderates feel comfortable calling "infrastructure," like roads, bridges, airports, and ports, plus funding for broadband infrastructure, replacing lead water pipes, and a smidgen of spending on climate, like improving resiliency of roads etc., plus charging stations for electric vehicles. (Much more of the climate stuff from Biden's American Jobs Plan will end up in the reconciliation bill.)
CBS News notes that while Republican negotiators are making optimistic noises about getting 10 R's, plus all 50 Democrats, to move the bill forward, that 's still not a certainty:
[While] 11 Republicans had previously suggested they would vote for the bipartisan proposal, some of them now seem to be getting cold feet. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also not yet endorsed the bill, and his opposition could sink its chances.
Even so, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she's "feeling like the numbers are solid, and with the potential to grow." So yay, maybe?
As for the reconciliation bill, the real fight for what exactly ends up in it will come after Congress returns from recess, but the broad outlines are a bit clearer than they were before last night's announcement. While Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders had initially been pushing for roughly $6 trillion in spending, that was always going to be unlikely to get anywhere with more budget-nervous Dems like Joe Manchin (West Virginia), so it's not too surprising the total came down some.
Your pundit types are pointing out that happened with COVID relief, too, but also that once a framework agreement was reached, the total didn't waver much from there. Also, some clever souls like pointing out that when joined with the $600 billion in new spending in the bipartisan bill, that's still a respectable $4.1 trillion in new spending on great big Democratic priorities like climate, family leave, childcare, education, and extending the expanded Child Tax Credit. Even if it's a bit smaller, it's still a hell of an ambitious agenda. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told Politico, "The most important thing is we go big. The public wants us to go big. We make a difference for a generation on some of these issues."
President Biden went to Capitol Hill today to have lunch with Senate Democrats, where he'll push to get both the bipartisan bill and the shell budget bill passed quickly. And if everything goes well, maybe that can actually happen, after which the real scramble in both houses to get various provisions into the "real" bill will get rolling after the recess.
Honestly, we think Schumer should just make everyone stay in Washington and get the reconciliation bill put together, but we're dreamers that way.
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