Democrats propose $3.5 trillion safety net and climate spending plan as infrastructure bill heads toward Senate passage

As a bipartisan infrastructure deal continues to roll toward passage in the Senate, Democrats released details of a larger companion bill that would transform the country’s social safety net.

After a weekend of work, debate continued on the proposal that contains roughly $550 billion in new money to address the nation’s bridges, roads, waterways and rail. A final Senate vote on the bill, which has cleared numerous procedural hurdles in the chamber, is expected late Monday or early Tuesday.

On Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released details of a budget reconciliation plan meant to accomplish additional goals set forth by President Biden this spring and satisfy members of his party who didn’t think the bipartisan deal went far enough. The plan would cost $3.5 trillion over 10 years and expand programs tied to climate, education and health care while raising taxes on corporations and Americans making more than $400,000 a year.

In this Aug. 3, 2021 photo, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the Capitol last Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“By making education, health care, child care, and housing more affordable, we can give tens of millions of families a leg up,” Schumer said in a letter to Senate Democrats. “This legislation will provide the largest tax cut for American families in a generation, while making the wealthy pay their fair share.”

Provisions in the package provide funding for elder care, the expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing, universal pre-K and the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps. The plan also contains pieces tied to immigration and labor. Not included in the bill is raising the debt ceiling, setting up another showdown between the two parties in September.

In order for the bill to pass via reconciliation, it will require the support of all 50 members of the Democratic caucus, from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to moderates who negotiated the bipartisan deal, like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Republicans are expected to unanimously reject it.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) leaves the U.S. Capitol following a vote on August 03, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., leaves the U.S. Capitol following a vote on Tuesday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“I affectionately call that $3.5 trillion spending spree the blue whale,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said on the Senate floor Sunday. “It’s very, very large, the largest. It’s soft and it’s blue, but ours is going to be used for real hard infrastructure. Of course, it’s about one-seventh the size.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she will not hold a vote on the bipartisan deal until the Senate has also passed the larger budget plan. CNN reported Saturday that moderate members of the House Democratic caucus were circulating a letter to Pelosi calling on her to hold a vote on the bipartisan plan, saying “this once-in-a-century investment deserves its own consideration, without regard to other legislation.”

If Pelosi were to relent and hold a vote, it’s unclear if the legislation would even have the Democratic votes to pass, as numerous progressives have criticized the bipartisan deal. A number of those members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., blasted the request by their colleagues for a standalone vote.

“If [moderates] want to blow up the infra deal, that’s on them,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter Saturday. “I know this is tough for some to understand, but the US is more than a handful of suburbs- communities outside them aren’t disposable.

“And just bc something is ‘bipartisan’ doesn’t mean it’s good,” she continued.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at a news conference on the eviction moratorium at the Capitol on August 03, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., at a Capitol news conference on the eviction moratorium on Tuesday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Schumer expressed confidence that the balancing act would continue, saying of the bipartisan bill, “We will move forward to wrap this up as expeditiously as possible, and then move on to the budget resolution. The two-track process is moving along.”

Former President Donald Trump has criticized the infrastructure process and repeatedly condemned Republicans who support it, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said he would no longer support the bill in a statement Sunday, citing the national debt and Pelosi’s pairing of the bill.

Despite Trump’s attacks, the bill is expected to have the minimum 10 Republicans needed to pass in the Senate.

“Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill is a disgrace,” Trump said in a statement Saturday. “If Mitch McConnell was smart, which we’ve seen no evidence of, he would use the debt ceiling card to negotiate a good infrastructure package.”

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