Schumer’s Two-Track Plan for Biden Agenda Hits Party Hurdles

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plan to advance President Joe Biden’s economic agenda on two tracks hit stumbling blocks Thursday as moderate Democrats said they’re still working on the details of a bipartisan infrastructure plan and balked at a separate proposal for a $6 trillion follow-up as too costly.

Some of the Democrats involved in negotiating a bipartisan framework for a $579 billion infrastructure package said the details haven’t been settled, including how to pay for it.

Meanwhile, some of the same Democrats balked at a $6 trillion plan proposed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders with the aim of passing the rest of Biden’s jobs and family proposals as well as other priorities via the fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to bypass Republican opposition.

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who was part of the bipartisan group working on the infrastructure compromise, said that even though 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats back the general contours of the plan, they haven’t agreed on all the specifics. He said it may be a “challenge” to draw full Democratic support.

Schumer has developed a two-track strategy in response to competing pressures from moderates Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for a bipartisan infrastructure deal and to resistance from progressives who want a larger budget package later. Manchin has refused to commit to doing a subsequent package.

Warner, a Budget Committee member, was among the moderate Democrats also expressing skepticism about pushing through a separate $6 trillion partisan package. Montana Democrat Jon Tester also indicated he wouldn’t support a package of that size.

“Suffice it to say, what some people are proposing would probably be the proverbial bridge too far,” Warner said. “But I’m going to go into this as an open-minded negotiation. I do realize we’ve got to find a way to get a big group to yes on infrastructure and all Democrats to yes on reconciliation.”

With the bipartisan group still not able to agree among themselves on the details of their plan and the White House still not on board, the timetable to get a package passed keeps getting pushed later into the summer. The Senate is scheduled to begin a nearly three-week break next Thursday. At the same time, progressive Democrats in the House and Senate are pressuring party leaders to come up with a plan to address their priorities, like expanding Medicare, reining in prescription drug prices and addressing climate change.

”We’ve got to deal with the structural problems facing America,” Sanders told reporters. “Now is the time to do that.”

The Sanders proposal would encompass those parts of Biden’s $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan not included in any bipartisan infrastructure compromise as well as his $1.9 trillion American Families Plan. Additional Sanders priorities include lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 or 55, providing Medicare dental, vision and hearing coverage, lowering drug prices and enacting a permanent child tax credit.

Sanders and Democrats on the Budget Committee discussed with Schumer on Wednesday moving forward with the fast-track process. But it’s not clear yet whether Democrats will be able hold together to pass a multitrillion-dollar plan, especially if it adds to the deficit.

House Action

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Thursday he is “open” to a $6 trillion plan and said Sanders had told him he was planning to try to craft a larger economic package than Biden had proposed. The House Budget Committee will try to hold votes on its own budget blueprint the week of July 12, he said, with the full House voting the following week. That timeline could set up action in Congress on a follow-on reconciliation bill implementing the budget’s instructions in the fall after the August recess.

“We know that one bill is not going to do it for us,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Under the budget process, Democrats would be able to pass a reconciliation bill in the Senate with 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaker, instead of the usual 60 votes that would require Republican support.

House Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal has called for a $6 trillion to $10 trillion package and welcomed the Sanders expansion of a budget bill.

“That is right in our range,” she said. “We are coordinating closely with Bernie.”

She expected the extra money would be spent on more generous childcare, paid leave, and Medicare expansion with some of the new cost offset by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. “This is going to help stabilize the economy,” she said.

Progressives also are pressing for significant provisions to address climate change, whether in an infrastructure bill or a follow-on reconciliation package.

“We are not going to be able to get the votes for a smaller package unless there is a simultaneous movement of an agreed-upon reconciliation package that includes everything,” Jayapal said during a call with reporters Wednesday.

Bipartisan Plan

Biden was being briefed Thursday on the bipartisan infrastructure plan after his return from Europe. A White House official said that the draft outline of the bipartisan proposal did not reflect details that were presented to the White House team by a group of Democrats Tuesday night, an indication further changes were in the offing.

The group is proposing $1.2 trillion over eight years for physical infrastructure, including already expected maintenance spending. Instead of the corporate tax increases Biden has put forward, the proposed compromise would bolster tax enforcement, encourage private investment and re-purpose unspent coronavirus relief and unemployment benefit funds.

According to an outline of the plan, the group proposes increases in customs user fees and direct payment of municipal bonds as financing sources for new spending.

The plan would devote $110 billion to roads and bridges; $66 billion to passenger and freight rail; and $15 billion to electric vehicles and buses. It says the idea to index the gas tax to inflation and add a new fee on electric vehicles remain in the plan until the White House presents an alternative.

There are a “lot of preconditions” from Republicans and Democrats both, so getting an overall deal “will be a challenge,” Warner said.

Tester, another Democratic member of the negotiating group, said he hopes they can agree on a final plan on Monday.

Warner said after the meeting with White House officials that it was clear to him there will have to be a follow-on reconciliation package -- but said he disagrees with some of Biden’s longer-term proposals, pointing to the need for intra-party negotiations on such a bill.

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