Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has set up two major tests for himself and fellow Democrats in trying to force action this week on a bipartisan $579 billion infrastructure plan and a separate $3.5 trillion tax and spending proposal.
Schumer put the legislative gears in motion by announcing he’ll take a preliminary step Monday that would lead to a first test vote on the infrastructure plan by Wednesday. He set the same day as a deadline for all Senate Democrats to unite behind a budget blueprint that would carry out the bulk of Biden’s economic and social agenda later this year.
But there’s no firm deal on either plan yet, and it will take weeks — if not months — before anything reaches President Joe Biden’s desk.
The bipartisan group of 22 senators negotiating the infrastructure package have struggled for weeks to hammer out details that can be turned into legislative text, but still haven’t settled on how to pay for their plan as negotiations with the White House continued through the weekend.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, one of the Republicans leading the effort, said the group has dropped the idea of using revenue gained from stricter tax code enforcement to offset costs because Democrats intend to include that in their separate tax and spending package. He and other Republicans are balking at moving forward without the legislation in hand, directly rebuffing of Schumer’s strategy.
“It’s more important to get it right than to meet an arbitrary deadline,” Portman said Sunday on CNN. “We should bring the legislation forward when it’s ready.”
Schumer’s second target — agreement on a budget framework for the biggest expansion of social spending in decades — could prove just as challenging. Details of that package also haven’t been spelled out. Two Democrat senators from Republican-dominated states, Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, want more details on the specifics of the $3.5 trillion plan, including how it would be paid for, before committing.
Schumer needs the backing of all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats to set the stage for passing legislation later in the year without GOP support.
Manchin last week indicated he could support some aspects of the plan, including adding an immigration provision. But he’s pushed back on some of Biden’s proposed tax hikes, wanting smaller increases in corporate and capital gains taxes in particular, and at climate-related measures aimed at cutting fossil-fuel use that progressive Democrats are demanding.
He said Friday it may be difficult for him to decide by midweek whether he’ll support the broad budget outline since he hasn’t seen any documents or heard directly in recent days from Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders.
“That’s a challenge,” Manchin said.
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi need both the infrastructure package and the budget outline moving in tandem in order to corral the unified Democrat support they need. Manchin and other party moderates want Republican buy-in for infrastructure as a condition for supporting the more expansive partisan spending package. Democrat progressives are threatening to scuttle the infrastructure bill if their priorities aren’t addressed in the budget blueprint at the same time.
“To the extent to which this bill now lays out the robust climate protection provisions, it makes it much easier to vote for the bipartisan bill,” progressive Democrat Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said, referring to the budget outline.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was more explicit.
House progressives “will tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless we will also pass the reconciliation bill,” she said at a town hall event last week.
Republicans are unified in opposition to the broader budget bill, which will include major social spending and tax cuts for middle-class families paid for by taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Some, such as Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, predict that passing the bipartisan infrastructure plan will make it harder for Schumer to pass the follow-on package later this year.
Even if Democrats unite behind the budget outline this week, they still have months of wrangling to come on the fine print, and a procedural gauntlet as well.
In the House, Pelosi will meet with fellow Democrats behind closed doors Tuesday morning, their first get-together since Senate Democrats unveiled their $3.5 trillion budget framework. The speaker so far has publicly stayed on the sidelines as Schumer maneuvers both plans in the Senate.
But she soon will have to navigate the fractious House Democratic caucus. House moderates are raising concerns about the overall cost of the budget plan even as progressives clamor for more. She made clear that the Senate won’t be the last word. Once the Senate does its work, Pelosi said last week, “perhaps we realign some of those priorities.”
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