WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats reached an agreement Tuesday night on a $3.5 trillion budget plan that would expand Medicare, fund climate change initiatives and fulfill other parts of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda that Democrats hope to pass on top of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
After a lengthy meeting among Democrats on the Senate’s Budget Committee, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York announced the agreement for a budget reconciliation package that would fund what Biden has called “human infrastructure.”
Schumer said that when including $600 billion in new spending Biden has proposed in a separate bipartisan infrastructure plan, the amount of new spending comes in around $4.1 trillion – close to Biden’s full infrastructure and family agendas.
“Every major program that President Biden has asked us for is funded in a robust way,” Schumer said.
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Proposals include expanded caregiving for the disabled and elderly, universal prekindergarten, subsidized child care, free community college, national paid family leave, extended child tax credits and an assortment of environmental initiatives. Schumer said Democrats also added a plan to expand Medicare – long a battle cry for progressives – including coverage for dental, vision and hearing.
Biden was set to meet with Senate Democrats at the Capitol Wednesday to discuss the agreement.
Senate Budget Committee chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had originally sought a $6 trillion reconciliation package, but he joined Schumer and other Democrats in a show of support for the compromise.
“This is, in our view, a very pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said. “The wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fair share of taxes so that we can protect the working families of this country.”
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Democrats hope to pass the legislation through reconciliation, which would allow them to pass the spending with a simple majority in the evenly divided Senate and avoid a filibuster – meaning they would not need to win 10 Republicans to push the bill through the chamber.
“We know we have a long road to go,” Schumer said. “We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better.”
Yet there’s no guarantee Biden and Democratic leaders can unite all Senate Democrats in support of the package. Moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key swing vote, have been noncommittal about backing another trillion-dollar package.
Manchin told reporters he is “open to looking at everything they provided” – including Medicare expansion – but wants it completely funded. “We have to pay for all this.”
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Biden has proposed increasing taxes on corporations and doubling the capital gains tax to pay for the “human infrastructure” and climate components. The president has said he won’t raise taxes on any families earning less than $400,000 a year.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a key negotiator for the legislation, told reporters Tuesday night that the package would be fully financed with offsetting revenue, but he provided no details.
This had been an issue for other centrist Democrats, including Manchin, who told reporters earlier Tuesday: “Everything should be paid for. How much debt can y’all handle?”
Previous bipartisan deal
In June, Biden and a group of 21 Republican and Democratic senators agreed to a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal aimed at modernizing America’s aging transportation and public works systems.
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The roughly $1.2 trillion plan calls for $579 billion in new spending and focuses only on physical infrastructure structure such as roads, bridges, rail, broadband internet, water and sewer pipes and electric vehicles.
Biden has said he’s pursuing a “dual track strategy” that involves seeking congressional approval of the infrastructure bill with Republicans and the “human infrastructure” with only Democrats. But after initially saying he would sign the bipartisan deal into law only if Congress passes the reconciliation package, he walked back that threat amid blowback from Republicans.
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they hope to pass the bipartisan deal before the August recess.
Contributing: The Associated Press, Ledge King
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Medicare, climate change focus of Senate’s ‘human infrastructure’ plan