Democrats are preparing a $3.5 trillion infrastructure
package that includes funds for housing
, nutrition, climate change
, health care
, child care
, and other programs.
Passing a bill of this magnitude hasn't been done since the Great Depression
, and it will necessitate keeping a fractious party together through an extremely difficult process that could blow up at any time
. To say Democratic
leaders face a difficult task is an understatement.
In the Senate
, all 50 Democrats will need to be on the same page when it comes to what is included in the package and how it will be paid for. For the time being, a group of moderate Democrats are deferring judgment until they see more details, but progressives
are largely on board, calling the bill's size — which would be passed through reconciliation, a process that only requires a simple majority — "awesome."
“I would like to do even more, but let me be clear: what we are discussing is the most consequential piece of legislation since the 1930s,” Sen. Bernie Sanders
(I-Vt.) told reporters when asked if the bill does enough to combat climate change.
The bill would make critical investments to meet President Joe Biden
's climate change goals of making 80% of electricity generation "clean" and cutting national carbon emissions
in half by 2030; funding a Civilian Climate Corps; weatherizing buildings; and establishing a clean energy
standard, which are supported by environmentalists but may face opposition from Democrats who represent moratorium states
“If they’re eliminating fossil [fuels], and I’m finding out there’s a lot of language in places eliminating fossil, that’s very disturbing,” Sen. Joe Manchin
(D-W.Va.) said of the package.
The issue of how to pay for $3.5 trillion in spending could also pose
challenges for a large-scale infrastructure overhaul, according to Democratic aides. The package would be fully offset by savings from prescription drug reform, tax increases on the wealthy, and “long-term economic growth” associated with infrastructure spending.
However, it is unclear whether moderate Democrats in either chamber will agree to the kinds of tax increases their leaders say are required to finance a $3.5 trillion bill, especially with midterm elections
coming up next year; Republicans are hoping to sever enough of those members to sink the bill entirely.
“I think a lot of these tax increases will be extremely contentious, and I think Democrats will have a lot of heartburn,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) predicted on Wednesday.
The $3.5 trillion proposal includes an expansion of Medicare
to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage; funding for child care and elder care for millions of Americans; and funds for affordable housing, community college
, paid leave, and universal pre-K. The bill would also extend the duration of the monthly child tax credit
, which began this week and is set to expire at the end of the year.
On Wednesday, Biden attended the weekly Senate Democratic policy lunch, where he praised his party's legislative efforts, spoke broadly about the opportunity to pass legislation for American families, and took questions from a dozen senators.
“It’s great to be home
, great to be back with all my colleagues, and I think we’re going to get a lot done,” the president said later.
Meanwhile, the $3.5 trillion Democratic proposal may complicate the separate $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal
, which focuses solely on roads, bridges, and waterways. Several Republicans involved in the bipartisan deal's negotiations have stated that they are dissatisfied with the $3.5 trillion package, despite Democrats' stated intention months ago.
“I think it’s completely irresponsible,” said Sen. Rob Portman
(R-Ohio), a member of the bipartisan group, of the $3.5 trillion total.
Portman refused to say whether Democrats' push for a partisan reconciliation package had made Republicans wary of supporting the bipartisan infrastructure proposal.
However, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
argued that the Democratic proposal should not disrupt bipartisan infrastructure talks.
“There’s no reason why [Democrats] introducing a bill we knew they were going to introduce the entire time will prevent someone from supporting our bill,” Cassidy said.
Another member of the bipartisan group, Manchin, expressed hope that Republicans would continue to separate the two (the bipartisan infrastructure plan and the larger reconciliation bill), saying that “the more Democrats keep trying to put the two together and the more they allow the Republicans
to put them together,” the more likely both will fail.
So far, negotiations have been centered in the Senate, where Democrats must strike a more delicate balance between their own party's 50 members and Republicans.
However, House Democrats
are not always a unified front, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
, who has stated her support for the $3.5 trillion proposal, must also consider both the progressive and moderate factions of her caucus, which includes several Democratic lawmakers who were on the verge of losing reelection last year.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said the budget
proposal contains “very, very good news
,” including her priorities of expanding Medicare, investing in climate infrastructure, and taxing the wealthy.