President Biden had lunch with the Senate Democrats on Wednesday. The topic of discussion was a plan to spend about $4 trillion dollars, so this was no ordinary lunch. There will be two separate infrastructure bills–one that’s bipartisan and has $600 billion in new spending and one that will have to pass through the budget reconciliation process without any Republican votes that costs $3.5 trillion.
You didn’t ask, but it sounds like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is probably on board, so there’s a chance this might actually happen.
My statement on the Senate Budget Committee's $3.5 trillion infrastructure package: pic.twitter.com/qstcR85flP
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) July 14, 2021
Obviously, the sticking point is how the bill is paid for and relatedly how the Congressional Budget Office scores the bills. Sometimes lawmakers (particularly Republicans) will assume theoretical revenue from economic growth that the CBO won’t use in their calculations. In this case, the Democrats (and Manchin) might resort to similar gambits if they don’t get a perfectly budget neutral score.
Despite Manchin’s stated caution, I assume he signed off on the top-line numbers and the basic strategy before Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made his big announcement. He may still have some priorities he wants to fight for, but mainly he wants to look like he’s won concessions to make the $3.5 billion bill less costly and progressive. Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is playing the same long game.
With an evenly split Senate, everything has to go right, and the Senate Democrats’ heath has to hold up, but if the two-part infrastructure plan succeeds, it will be the most transformative thing Congress has done since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in office.
The bipartisan infrastructure framework is expected to total $1.2 trillion, though about half that amount is simply the expected continuation of existing federal programs. Still, the nearly $600 billion in new spending, combined with funds already approved in Mr. Biden’s pandemic relief law and the pending infrastructure plan, could be transformative, steering government largess toward poor and middle-class families in amounts not seen since the New Deal.
As you might expect, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not happy.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday that the Senate Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget deal is “wildly out of proportion to what the country needs now,” at a time he says inflation is “raging.”
…“What Democrats say they want to force through this summer through reconciliation would make our current inflationary mess look like small potatoes.”
Some Americans remember the stagflation of the Jimmy Carter era, but fear of inflation is probably not the most potent scare tactic for the Republicans to adopt in opposition to these bills. On the other hand, it’s an actual concern which makes this a rare case where the GOP is using a reality-based talking point. If truthful concerns were useful to Republicans, they’d use them more often. In this case, they’ll get more mainstream and credentialed support than they’ve been receiving of late but it’s unlikely to make a difference. The Democrats know that they can’t fail or it will likely cripple Biden’s presidency.
It may be premature to say, but this is why I’ve largely ignored this issue all spring and summer. Manchin and Sinema had to be with Biden in the end, but it had to look like a giant struggle to get them on board. It was a show for their right-of-center constituencies and also for progressives who have been making enormous demands. It looks like the show is almost over now, so we can take what we’re seeing at face value.
The Senate Finance Committee is working out the revenue side of things, with a focus on making rich people and corporations pay much more in taxes while dirty energy companies receive much less in tax subsidies. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has put together the appropriation priorities.
On the spending side, Mr. Biden, working with Mr. Sanders, wants to make prekindergarten access universal and two years of community college free to all Americans. Money is expected to be devoted to a series of climate provisions, after liberal Democrats warned that they would not support the bipartisan framework without the promise of further climate action.
Democrats also want to extend tax credits that were in the pandemic recovery plan for many years to come, including a $300-per-child credit for poor and middle-income families that began this week.
That’s just a basic outline. The full details will be unveiled and then fleshed out in the committee process with a goal of passing the bills before Congress goes into August recess. On Friday, Schumer wrote to his colleagues, “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period.”
If you don’t have a subscription to CSPAN, now might be the time to solve that problem because the next month is going to be a flurry of activity in Congress as the committees mark up this legislation. Most people will probably be trying to dodge the Delta variant while they try to resume a semblance of summer normalcy, but this will be the consequential show Congress has put on I’m most of our lifetimes.