Senate Democrats approve budget resolution, teeing up $3.5T spending plan

Senate Democrats approved a budget resolution early Wednesday morning that will allow them to pass a $3.5 trillion spending plan without GOP support later this year.

The Senate voted 50-49 to adopt the resolution, capping off a chaotic, hours-long debate on the floor during which senators voted on dozens of largely nonbinding amendments that offer a preview of the fight to come on the spending bill.

Though the budget resolution doesn’t get signed into law, it’s the first step toward bypassing the 60 vote threshold required to pass most legislation in the Senate. Democrats will try to unify their entire 50-member caucus to pass the spending bill on their own as soon as late September. The package is expected to include top Democratic priorities like immigration reform, combating climate change and universal pre-K.

“This legislation will not only provide enormous support to the kids of this country, to the parents of this country, to the elderly people of this country, but it will also, I hope, restore the belief that in America we can have a government that works for all, not just the few,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The House left Washington late last month. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday that they will return on Aug. 23 to consider the budget resolution and “will remain in session until our business for the week is concluded.”

The Senate’s vote on the budget comes less than a day after they passed a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that was negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators and the White House.

The votes fulfill Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) pledge to make progress on both pieces of President Biden’s infrastructure plan  the bipartisan bill and the Democratic-only measure  before letting senators leave for their August recess.

“So despite this long road we’ve taken, we have finally, finally reached the finish line. Of course, we Democrats believe we need to do much more. The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a very significant bill, but our country has other very significant, very important challenges. … We are moving on to a second track which will make generational transformation,” Schumer said on Tuesday.

Though 19 Republicans helped pass the bipartisan bill on Tuesday, Democrats approved the budget resolution without any GOP support and are expected to go it alone to pass their $3.5 trillion spending package that sparks fierce opposition from Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of “playing Russian roulette” with the country.

“This new reckless taxing and spending spree will fall like a hammer blow on workers and middle-class families. Fewer jobs, lower wages, more inflation, pushing costs higher and higher. What our colleagues are proposing and planning is absolutely jaw-dropping,” McConnell said.

There were flashes of tensions during the Senate’s hours-long session as well as unexpected bipartisanship as Democrats tried to defuse the GOP’s political messaging amendments.

After Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) offered an amendment on the Green New Deal, a progressive climate change plan that Republicans see as prime campaign fodder, Sanders said he had “no problem” voting for it because it had “nothing” to do with the plan.

When Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) offered an amendment opposing defunding the police, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has been involved in police reform negotiations, called the amendment a “gift” and urged everyone to vote for it in an animated speech.

“I am so excited. This is perhaps the highlight of this long and painful and tortuous night,” Booker said. “Finally, once and for all, we can put to bed this scurrilous accusation that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police. So let’s all of us, let’s 100 people, not walk but sashay down there and vote for this amendment.”

The amendment got added to the budget in a 99-0 vote.

Republicans also got several symbolic wins. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined with Republicans to add nonbinding language into the budget resolution on preserving the Hyde Amendment and banning the use of federal funds to teach “critical race theory,” which has become a key talking point for conservatives as midterm election battles start to take shape.

Democrats also voted with Republicans in support of new law enforcement positions and requiring COVID-19 tests for immigrants. Each of the amendments was nonbinding, meaning they’ll have no practical impact on Democrats as they craft the bill but could preview looming fights on the spending package this fall.

The budget resolution includes few details about what will be in the Democratic spending plan, instead providing broad top lines that committees will need to start formally drafting their bills.

But the subsequent spending package it greenlights, according to a memo sent to Democratic senators this week, will be a sweeping bill that touches on almost every facet of American life, including child care, health care, housing, education, job training and manufacturing.

It will tackle big Democratic priorities that outside of the budget process would likely fail to defeat the filibuster, including immigration reform, combating climate change and free community college.

Democrats still need to hash out many of the details, a balancing act that will require them to craft a bill that can win over centrists like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) without losing progressives like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Democrats for example are expected to include “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants” and border security measures in the spending package, according to the memo to Democratic offices, but they haven’t specified who would qualify. And the budget resolution provides even less clarity, only providing the Senate Judiciary Committee with a price tag for its bill but no guidance on what should be included in it.

Democrats are proposing to pay for the bill, in part, by increasing taxes on wealthy earners and some corporations.

Unity on the spending package later this year isn’t guaranteed. Sinema has raised concerns about the price tag, and Manchin has expressed concerns both about the debt and some of the energy language.

Meanwhile, some progressives have signaled they want to go even bigger.

“The $3.5 trillion in the Democrat-led budget resolution making its way through the Senate right now is much closer to what we need, but it still doesn’t go far enough,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden infrastructure plan budget resolution Build Back Better Charles Schumer Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Barrasso Kyrsten Sinema Mitch McConnell Reconciliation spending Steny Hoyer

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