Democrats Roll Out $3.5 Trillion Finances to Fulfill Expansive Agenda

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WASHINGTON – President Biden and the Democrats in Congress on Wednesday promised to push through a $ 3.5 trillion budget that would usher in a transformative expansion of social and environmental programs into law, and began an arduous effort to transform their vision to expand the reach of public education and health care, tax the rich and seek to curb planet warming.

The legislation is still far from reality, but the details that top Democrats have brought together are far-reaching. Pre-kindergarten would be universal for all 3- and 4-year-olds, two years of community college would be free, utility companies would have to produce a certain amount of clean energy, and prescription drug prices would be reduced. Medicare benefits would be extended and green cards would be extended to more undocumented immigrants.

Over a closed-door lunch at the Capitol, Mr. Biden gathered the Democrats and the Independents who allied with them to adopt the plan that would require each of their votes to overcome the united Republican opposition. But key moderates first had to shake hands as to whether they would welcome such a far-reaching proposal.

Mr. Biden’s message to the Senators, said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, was that the Democrats “must be united, strong, great and courageous.”

“We can do it,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the Capitol.

The Senate could start moving the plan forward in weeks, though a final vote could still take months and face several hurdles. For now, even if the moderates refused to commit to the package without further details, the Democrats and their independent allies insist they are together.

Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, who ultimately has to get the package through a tightly divided house, told Democrats in a letter on Wednesday: “This budget deal is a victory for the American people and makes a historic, unique step forward for families across America the nation . “

Senate Democratic leaders have stated that they will approve both the draft budget and a tighter, bipartisan infrastructure plan that will be written before the Chamber leaves for the August recess, an extraordinarily complex and politically charged endeavor in a 50-50 Senate .

“This is a moment in history when the United States must assert itself anew in its dealings with families, our dealings with our children, the existential crisis of climate change, and our dealings with China,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and a key negotiator, told reporters on Wednesday.

Combined with the infrastructure plan, the social spending is expected to meet Mr. Biden’s $ 4 trillion economic proposal. The Democrats on the Senate Budgets Committee will have to submit a budget resolution in the coming days containing so-called reconciliation instructions to other Senate committees, which will in turn draft laws detailing how the $ 3.5 trillion will be spent – and how taxes will be spent Payment should be increased for this.

That would pave the way for Democrats to come up with a reconciliation bill this fall that would be safe from a filibuster and allow them to bypass the Republican opposition but pass all 50 of its members – and a majority in the narrowly divided house.

The reconciliation package would be crammed with liberal priorities, including expanding Medicare to include dental, visual and hearing services, clean energy, paid vacation and home care – all paid for with tax increases for wealthy individuals and businesses.

At the private luncheon, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, outlined the outline of the proposal and the guidelines it contained.

The Democrats included the creation of a “civilian climate corps” to create jobs in the fight against climate change and conservation, as well as childcare, home care and housing investments.

They would also extend some temporary accruals from the $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, mostly monthly payments for everyone but the richest families with children, and extended subsidies for Americans who buy health insurance through the Affordable Care Act .

Updated

July 14, 2021, 3:26 p.m. ET

Huge investments would go into renewable energy and a transformed electrical system to shift the US economy from oil, natural gas, and coal to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources. The draft budget should include a clean energy standard that would mandate the generation of electricity from renewable energy sources and strengthen tax incentives for buying electric cars and trucks.

To fully fund the bill, it is expected to include higher taxes on overseas corporate activities to reduce the incentives to send profits overseas, higher capital return ratios for wealthy individuals and higher taxes on large inheritances, as well as stronger enforcement of tax laws.

Most of the concrete details will be worked out after the budget decision has been drawn up and approved by both chambers.

Specific provisions need to be in line with the strict budgetary rules that govern the reconciliation process, which require the provisions to cover spending and taxes, not strict policy making. That could break the standard for clean energy, the most desired provision by climate activists and many scientists.

Moderate Democrats, who had resisted a progressive urge to spend up to $ 6 trillion on Mr Biden’s entire economic agenda, largely refused to participate in the blueprint, saying they need to see more than a total spending number.

“We need to get more meat on the bones for me,” Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, told reporters. “I need to get more information about what’s inside.”

The scope of the blueprint could be affected by the success or failure of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which would provide nearly $ 600 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, tunnels, and transit. The group of lawmakers negotiating this package has yet to release a piece of legislation as they haggle over the details of the structure and payment of the plan.

However, some Republican negotiators acknowledged that advances in the broader social spending bill put pressure on them to agree on the infrastructure plan. If Republicans can’t cast enough votes to get the package past a filibuster, Democrats would just add it to the reconciliation plan and take Republicans away from any chance to shape it, said Ohio Senator Rob Portman, one of the negotiators on the bipartisan bill .

“If we can’t get past the infrastructure, they’ll build even more infrastructure than we have and worse guidelines,” said Portman, who was skeptical of his colleagues at a private Republican lunch on Tuesday. “It’s not just about spending money. It’s about politics. That’s just the reality. “

Some Republicans had hoped that a bipartisan deal on physical infrastructure projects would dissuade moderate Democrats from a multi-trillion dollar reconciliation package. But it could do the opposite – bring Republicans on board the only piece of legislation they can influence.

“I want to be able to tell the people in South Carolina, I’m for it, I’m not for it,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the senior Republican on the Senate Budgets Committee and a peripheral presence in the bipartisan talks.

He added that the lengthy floor debate over the draft would allow Republicans to “attack it savagely, pass amendments that draw the differences between the parties and shout to heaven that this is not infrastructure”.

Senator Joe Manchin III. of West Virginia, the centrist Democrat whose support could be critical, released a non-binding statement Wednesday saying only, “I know my Democratic colleagues on the Budgets Committee have worked hard and I look forward to making this agreement check. I am also very interested in how this proposal is paid for and how we can use it to remain competitive worldwide. “

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat of Arizona and another key moderate, also held back on Wednesday when her office said she would decide whether to support the proposal based on the content.

Still, the $ 3.5 trillion package had a lot going for it to appeal to senior Democrats who were eager to use it to advance their longstanding priorities. For Washington Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, it was an extension of a more generous child tax break, as well as grants for childcare, pre-kindergarten, and paid family leave.

For Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont and the chair of the budget committee, it was Medicare and climate regulations.

“We will finally have America in a position to be the world leader in combating climate change,” he said, calling the package “by far the most significant effort this country has ever seen” in combating climate change.

Mr. Tester said the need for school buildings is so great that it could cost trillions on that alone.

The budget decision is expected to include wording prohibiting tax increases for small businesses, farms and individuals with incomes less than $ 400,000, fulfilling an important promise Mr Biden kept during the negotiations.

Jim Tankersley, Lisa Friedman and Nicholas Fandos contributed to the coverage.