Democrats are bracing for a slog as they try to craft a sweeping $3.5 trillion spending plan that is the key to President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE's legislative agenda.
Though much of the public focus has been on separate bipartisan talks on a $1.2 trillion deal — which one senator characterized as the “easiest part” of the two-track strategy because of its narrow focus — big headaches await Democrats on their go-it-alone strategy for their larger bill that faces intense GOP opposition.
“I expect to be working all through the summer on this. I was here all last weekend, taking calls from senators, and I don’t think anything’s going to change,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Want a clean energy future? Look to the tax code Democrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda MORE (D-Ore.) told The Hill. “I’m expecting to be working all the time as we go into this. I wouldn’t buy any holiday tickets.”
To pass the Democratic-only plan, which includes a laundry list of the party’s top priorities such as expanding Medicare, immigration reform and combating climate change, they will need to come up with a proposal that satisfies all 50 members of their Senate caucus. In the House, their margins are nearly as thin: They can lose four Democrats.
“Look, you've got 435 members in the House. You’ve got 100 members in the Senate. Everybody has their issues,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Sanders calls deadly Afghan drone strike 'unacceptable' MORE (I-Vt.) told reporters. “Nobody’s a dictator here. We work it out.”
Passing the sweeping spending plan is a two-step process in Congress: First, Democrats need to pass a budget resolution that will lay out instructions for crafting their package. Passing the budget resolution will also, crucially, allow Democrats to pass the spending bill by a simple majority, meaning they don’t need GOP votes in the Senate. Then they will need to haggle over, write and pass the massive plan itself, with every Democrat likely to elbow for their priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.), Sanders and other Budget Committee Democrats reached a deal on a $3.5 trillion price tag for the Democrats’ spending plan to fund Biden’s priorities. But that top-line figure could go higher if the separate bipartisan talks unravel, with the bipartisan group leaving town for the week amid a standoff over transit funding.
If the smaller infrastructure deal gets folded into the Democrats' $3.5 trillion package, it would drive the total cost up to roughly $4.1 trillion. That could cause headaches in the House, where a handful of Democrats are already raising concerns about spending as they head into the 2022 midterm election, where the president’s party typically loses seats.
While Sanders and Schumer are feeling bullish about unifying all 50 Senate Democrats behind the budget resolution, several haven’t committed to the $3.5 trillion price tag, much less something that goes higher.
“I’m not committed to anything right now except for a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” said Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed MORE (D-W.Va.).
Manchin has also, privately and publicly, raised concerns about pieces of what Democrats want to include in their package, including the climate provisions. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, appeared to chalk up Manchin’s concerns as par for the course for passing a massive legislative package.
“I’m sure people will say that. They always say that until everything is agreed to,” Durbin said.
Schumer set a midweek deadline for all 50 Democrats to be ready to “move forward” with the budget resolution. But that end-of-business Wednesday time frame largely came and went without much acknowledgement from Democrats.
Asked about the deadline, Durbin described it as pushing Democrats to name their demands: “If anybody’s got anything they want in it, now is the time to speak.”
Senate Democrats are aiming to get the budget on the Senate floor by the first week of August, though Schumer has warned that he could cut into the summer break if it drags on longer. The House is scheduled to leave at the end of July, though House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda MORE (D-Md.) indicated to reporters that leadership is keeping its options open for how to take up the budget resolution once it passes the Senate.
“If you don’t have deadlines in the United States Senate, you are beyond nowhere,” Wyden said. “You are beyond nowhere, unless you have deadlines.”
The bill also has to pass muster with Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, who determines if its provisions comply with the chamber’s budget reconciliation rules. Democrats stripped a $15 per hour federal minimum wage from a similar package earlier this year after she ruled against its inclusion.
Democrats have sketched out what priorities they want to get into the bill — health care, expanding the child tax credit and combating climate change, among others — and how they propose paying for them — in part by increasing taxes on some high-earners — but they are still in the early days, with Durbin noting that they are largely focused on building support for the first step of passing the budget.
“We have not started to fill in the details. ... That is what’s going to happen over August,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K MORE (D-Conn.). “Obviously everybody’s got priorities, and I think we’re trying to get some sense of whether those priorities will be included but I don’t think any commitments are being made.”
Some committees have started to work on their pieces of the legislative package. Asked about drafting the Finance Committee’s portion, Wyden said one of his colleagues asked, “‘How many issues are you dealing with?’ I said, ‘How long have you got?’”
The Senate is scheduled to return from its August break on Sept. 13, while the House is currently scheduled to come back on Sept. 20. Some are hoping that the colossal package is ready to come to the floor by the time Congress comes back to Washington in the fall.
But Democratic leadership has also been careful not to give a specific time frame, and they will need to juggle a packed schedule after the summer break that also includes preventing an end-of-September government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.
“I always assumed ... it would not be before sometime in September,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Va.), who is on one of the Senate committees that will help write the spending package. “But it could slip from that.”