Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act: trying to simultaneously advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill of $ 600 billion and a budget resolution of $ 3.5 trillion full of democratic priorities that are only expected to be receives partial support.
This plan, which is colloquially known as the “two-pronged strategy”, is intended to show that lawmakers can actually work across party lines to achieve something on “hard” infrastructure such as roads and airports, and that Democrats can also provide a ” human “infrastructure that is a party priority but that Republicans do not support, such as funding for long-term care and paid vacation.
It’s a somewhat cumbersome approach to infrastructure law approval, driven by the focus that moderate Democrats and President Joe Biden have placed on bipartisanism – as well as their refusal to change the filibuster.
Democrats could have passed a bill with its most important provisions by budget comparison right from the start, which only requires a simple majority. But they’d need all 50 members of the caucus, and moderates like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said they wouldn’t consider this approach without taking bipartisan action first.
So bipartisan. But that measure would not be enough for the Democrats, even if passed. Instead, they have assigned many of their additional priorities, such as universal pre-K and child tax deduction extensions, to a reconciliation measure because Republicans have firmly stated they will not endorse them in bipartisan law.
The next two weeks will point the way for the two-pronged strategy: So far, there are no guarantees on either route. On Wednesday, the bipartisan bill did not get the 60 votes it needed for a procedural vote because the text for the bill is not ready and Republicans have said they will not vote on the opening debate until then. Schumer, meanwhile, has stressed that Congress has voted on other bills such as the Innovation and Competition Act and the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act to continue the debate without the full text.
The partisan lead is also uncertain: Senate Democrats have yet to announce an agreement on the draft budget resolution, despite Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) telling reporters on Wednesday that he believes they will give Schumer’s deadline for doing so before the end of the Day.
Either way, it could still work, but it depends a lot on what happens in the next week.
A group of eleven moderate Republicans have announced that they will vote in favor of further development of bipartisan legislation by Monday if they can come to an agreement by then. The Senate Democrats could also stand behind their budget measure at this point.
Neither is certain, however – an indication of how delicate an approach is required for this particular strategy.
This is how the two-pronged solution works in theory
If Schumer pulls through – and that’s a huge if – then Congress could effectively open the door to $ 4.1 trillion in new spending before lawmakers pause for August.
But a lot has to happen in between.
The first step is to advance the non-partisan infrastructure framework. After the procedural vote failed on Wednesday, it remains to be seen whether a possible vote on the draft law on Monday will turn out differently. Moderate Republicans have said they opposed opening a debate on the bill on Wednesday because it was not fully written at the time; So far, the negotiators still have to reach an agreement and present a legal text. Republican negotiators have said they intend to support the bill if it comes to the vote again on Monday and an agreement is actually reached. However, it is not yet clear whether they will reach this agreement.
“I hope Senator Schumer will vote on Monday when we’ve had a chance to resolve any remaining outstanding issues,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), a member of the bipartisan negotiating group, told CNN.
Schumer had previously said that he had scheduled the vote on Wednesday for this week to pressure negotiators to make progress on the legislation. He also stressed that such practices have been used in other bills in the past and that it is not uncommon to open a debate on a measure before the text is finalized.
Although there is still no legal text, the BIF – as outlined in its draft – focuses on the more traditional infrastructure. Of the $ 579 billion in new spending that it includes, $ 312 billion is for transportation, $ 109 billion for roads and bridges, $ 55 billion for water infrastructure, and $ 65 billion Dollars for broadband infrastructure. However, it does not include funding for long-term care or a number of the climate actions that were part of Biden’s original American Jobs plan.
At this point, the legislature still has to vote on the opening of the debate on the law as well as on the law itself. If final legislation is filibustered, it would take all 50 Democrats plus at least 10 Republicans or some other combination of bipartisan group to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass the bill.
All of this is happening as the Democrats weigh their budget decision, which is $ 3.5 trillion and includes a range of climate bills as well as massive social safety net expansions. This measure would finance universal pre-K, paid family and sick leave and an extension of the child allowance. Wednesday is also the deadline that Schumer set for the Democratic Group to unite on this resolution and to agree on this resolution that Sanders led.
In order for this budget reconciliation bill to pass, a process that allows spending and tax-related bills to be preferred by simple majority, Schumer needs all 50 members of his parliamentary group to approve both the resolution and the final bill.
The measures in the draft budget also need to be reviewed by Senate MP Elizabeth MacDonough, who can remove provisions that she believes are not relevant to taxation and spending. (Earlier this year, MacDonough ruled that, for example, a minimum wage of $ 15 should not be included on a household bill.)
As part of this process, Democrats must first vote on the budget decision – essentially instructions for the content of a bill – as it sets out the areas that final legislation will cover. And Schumer has said he intends to do this before the August recess. Once they have approved this resolution, lawmakers will have to draft the actual budget, which will not be voted on until later this year.
That means that Congress will likely vote on the final bipartisan bill and budget resolution around the same time, and then think about the final budget a little later.
The two-pronged solution might work – but it has some major hurdles to overcome
There are a number of factors that determine whether Schumer’s game of legislative maneuver will end with the passage of both bills, one or none.
On the BIF front, it is difficult to keep the support of at least 10 Republicans. First, the bipartisan group needs to agree on the text of the law: recent disagreements have centered on the role that the IRS enforcement should play in funding the measure.
The original plan was to spend $ 40 billion on strengthening IRS enforcement to generate $ 140 billion in new tax revenue – but then conservative groups put their resources together against it (as this would lead to raids on wealthy individuals and businesses could lead to evade taxes) and the Republicans backed down. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said IRS funding was not included, leaving a $ 100 billion funding gap for the bipartisan group.
Subject to agreement on pay-fors by next week – non-negotiable for Republicans who want the move to be debt neutral – The bipartisan measure has little chance of moving forward. If lawmakers differences are cleared, 11 Republicans have announced they will support the move.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are unlikely to consider the bipartisan plan without further progress in budget resolution.
In June, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said the House of Representatives would not adopt a bipartisan infrastructure deal until Senate Democrats pass their budget vote to guarantee progressives that support for the bipartisan bill does not lead to an impasse for their other priorities. It hasn’t given in yet, and progressives in the House of Representatives are unlikely to endorse the BIF if they think Senate Democrats can’t pass the $ 3.5 trillion budget measure.
If the budget decision passes through the Senate, the moderate MPs in the House of Representatives could also be a source of opposition. The Democrats can only afford to lose four votes and still get the resolution, and several key moderates have not yet given their views on the size and scope of the draft budget, according to the New York Times. But watering down the bill could, in turn, crowd out progressives.
On the Senate side, the Democrats must also hold the entire parliamentary group together. So far, the signs are hopeful: some people should support the draft budget as long as they are paid and they agree to the energy and climate regulations, Hill said, although that could change.
Simply put, there is no certainty that this two-pronged strategy will work.
Should the bipartisan agreement fail, the Democrats could still try to overcome all infrastructure priorities through reconciliation. But at this point it would continue to be a major challenge to maintain Democratic unity as to the looks of this bill.