Biden Can Go Without GOP on Families Plan, Experts Say

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Most of President Joe Biden’s sweeping new social-spending program should be able to clear Congress with only Democratic support, according to experts reviewing Senate rules.

That would give the $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” unveiled on Wednesday, a greater chance of enactment than some of Biden’s other initiatives -- like those on policing, voting rights and gun control, which cannot benefit from the fast-track procedure known as reconciliation.

Democrats would still need to keep all 50 members of the caucus united to pass the bill through the Senate, something they were able to do with the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill earlier this year. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would still need to navigate the legislation through her chamber, where she can only afford a handful of defections.

Biden’s plan would funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to tuition-free college and preschool, childcare subsidies, paid family and medical leave and health care.

It would all be paid for over 15 years by an increase in individual income and capital gains taxes for the highest earners, as well as some of the corporate tax hikes in Biden’s $2.25 trillion, infrastructure-led “American Jobs Plan.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, who would be charged with crafting a reconciliation bill said Wednesday he expects parts of Biden’s jobs and families plans would be wrapped into one giant budget package. The first step would be the House and Senate agreeing on a fiscal 2022 budget with instructions setting the parameters of the follow-on package.

“We are working very hard to make it possible,” Sanders said. He said he would work to add an expansion of Medicare benefits and lowering of its eligibility age to the package, along with provisions to force drug companies to lower prices.

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania predicted the Senate passes one giant budget bill this summer.

“I just don’t have a lot of confidence that we’re going to get Republicans’ support for something of this scope.”

The spending and tax elements of the families plan meet Senate rules requiring that budget legislation be primarily fiscal in nature -- a key hurdle. Senate rules require that budget reconciliation legislation not add to the deficit outside the budget window, which is usually 10 years.

Democrats could get around any problems over adding to the deficit by creating a 15-year budget window instead of 10, said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

A separate rule forbids regular appropriations for government agencies. That could necessitate that the $80 billion for the Internal Revenue Service that Biden is calling for in his families plan be included under reconciliation by creating a new mandatory funding stream that is outside the annual appropriations process, Goldwein said.

However, former Senate Budget Committee staff director Bill Hoagland, now at the Bipartisan Policy Center, argued that, as a practical matter, Appropriations Committee members may object to their power being eroded by putting much of the spending outside their annual spending bills.

Hoagland also said that a requirement that teachers and childcare workers be paid a $15-per-hour minimum wage could cause problems under the Senate rules. Biden’s move to phase in a national $15 hourly wage was barred from inclusion in the pandemic-relief bill.

Goldwein argued that the wage proposal could pass muster -- if constructed as a condition for federal funding rather than as a regulation, something generally excluded from the budget process.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not yet said when the American Families Plan would come to the Senate floor, and on Wednesday he urged Republicans to support it.

The Senate is already focused on Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee plans to draft the transportation portion of that package in May, ahead of likely votes in June or July. Parts of the transportation infrastructure bill, including a bailout of the highway trust fund and projects earmarked by individual lawmakers, are not eligible for fast-track procedures. That has led to greater momentum to bipartisan talks in that area.

However, Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, said an attempt by Democrats to ram through Biden’s newest plan on a party-line vote could affect GOP cooperation on the transportation legislation.

“I think there are enough Republicans and enough Democrats probably to pass something like that,” Thune said of the physical infrastructure portion of Biden’s plans. “But if they try to hold hostage our cooperation on that to get the reconciliation bill later, that may affect people’s assessment of the political dynamic of all this.”

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