WASHINGTON — Democrats are racing to finalize a bipartisan infrastructure deal and set the contours of a broad child-care and education plan, aiming to maintain a delicate agreement with Republicans while simultaneously plowing forward with their own priorities.
After a two-week recess, senators return to Washington this week to determine the fate of much of President Biden’s roughly $4 trillion agenda. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) told Senate Democrats in a letter on Friday that he expects that the chamber will take up both a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure agreement and a resolution setting the parameters of a bill encompassing other Democratic priorities in the coming weeks.
While staff have been filling in details of the infrastructure agreement, Democrats remain divided over the size and scope of the other, broader bill. Liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) have called for as much as $6 trillion in spending in the package, while moderates have favored a smaller number.
Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are seeking to reach an agreement on the top-line cost of the package soon and bring a budget resolution to the Senate floor in the coming weeks, the first step before other committees will craft the details of the legislation.
Adding to the sensitivity of the negotiations, many lawmakers have linked the fate of the two efforts. Some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) have said they won’t support the infrastructure agreement unless the other legislation moves forward, while some Republicans have said advancing other Democratic priorities could cause them to oppose the infrastructure deal.
"We’re going to be threading a very small eye of the needle," said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee.
Democrats are planning on using their narrow control of the 50-50 Senate to advance the education and antipoverty legislation through a budget maneuver called reconciliation, skirting the 60-vote threshold required for most legislation. Lawmakers are hoping to pass the infrastructure agreement, which provides roughly $600 billion in funding above expected federal spending on infrastructure, through the normal process requiring 60 votes.
A group of 21 senators — 11 Republicans and 10 members of the Democratic caucus—have signed onto the infrastructure deal, possibly giving it enough support to pass if every Democrat ultimately supports it. A set of business and labor groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, endorsed the infrastructure plan last week.
"We urge Congress to turn this framework into legislation that will be signed into law, and our organizations are committed to helping see this cross the finish line," the groups said in a statement.
Biden is expected to meet Wednesday with a group of governors and mayors to discuss how the bipartisan plan would benefit cities and states, the White House said.
Lawmakers and aides said the infrastructure agreement might face fresh difficulty. Negotiators and the White House have said the cost of the plan is fully covered, with revenue coming from enhanced enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service and public-private partnerships, among other sources of funding.
Official analysis of the plan from the Congressional Budget Office could show that its spending isn’t fully paid for, aides said, possibly jeopardizing Republican support for the deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said at a Kentucky event last week that he wanted to see the cost of the infrastructure agreement covered with revenue increases.
"I think there’s a decent chance that may come together; all I’ve said is I would like for it to be paid for. We’ve added quite enough to the national debt," he said.
McConnell said he would oppose the second package of Democratic priorities, railing against possible tax increases.
"This is going to be a hell of a fight. This is a fight worth having, this is not the right thing to do for the country, I don’t think they have a mandate to do it," he said. "And all of this is going to unfold here in the next few weeks."
Democrats are weighing a number of tax increases, including raising the corporate tax rate from 21%, tightening the net on U.S. companies’ foreign earnings and boosting the capital-gains rate.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), a pivotal centrist Democrat, has said the reconciliation package should be fully paid for, while at the same time favoring lower tax increases than what the White House has proposed. Other Democrats, such as Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), have also expressed skepticism about elements of the White House tax plan.
The agreement on the overall amount of spending and tax increases, which Democrats hope to codify in the coming weeks in a budget resolution, will determine the specific policy priorities that Democrats can fit into the legislation.
On top of universal prekindergarten, in-home care for elderly Americans, and an expanded child tax credit, among other priorities, some Democrats are hoping to expand Medicare so that it covers dental, vision and hearing care and offer it to a younger set of Americans. Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat, said there was strong agreement among Democrats for covering dental, hearing and vision under Medicare.
"I think there’s growing consensus for a number of these items, on that one there’s very strong agreement," he said.
The parallel sets of negotiations on a number of complicated policy questions may push the Senate to extend its work period further into August, when lawmakers typically return to their states.
"Please be advised that time is of the essence, and we have a lot of work to do. Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously scheduled August state work period," Schumer wrote in his letter to Democrats last week.