Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday that Democrats may work into August in order to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure package and a separate reconciliation bill that would dramatically expand the government-funded safety net.
In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Schumer reaffirmed his support for the so-called two-track approach to President Biden's "Build Back Better" economic agenda and said the Senate Budget Committee is working to turn a $1.2 trillion bipartisan framework into legislation.
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The committee is simultaneously creating a second package that would include provisions on combating climate change, expanding health care and bolstering care for elderly and disabled Americans and would be funded by drastically raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
The New York Democrat said his plan is for the Senate to consider the bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget resolution that could be passed using the procedural tool known as reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to bypass a 60-vote filibuster by Republicans. The party used the method earlier this year to muscle through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without any GOP votes.
"Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do," Schumer wrote. "Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously-scheduled August state work period."
Both houses of Congress are out of town for the Fourth of July recess. The Senate is slated to return to Washington next week, giving it just a few weeks to complete the herculean task before August recess begins.
With their incredibly slim majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats face a delicate balancing act in pursuing both a bipartisan deal and a larger bill that could cost several trillion dollars. Democratic leaders, who need to ensure that both measures receive the support of moderate and progressive members in order to pass, have indicated they will make the passage of the smaller bill contingent on the success of a larger bill.
Some progressive lawmakers have threatened to tank the bipartisan package if it didn't come in tandem with a reconciliation bill, while some moderate senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have questioned the need for a second bill that's worth up to $6 trillion.
"There aren't the votes to pass just the bipartisan plan without the reconciliation plan," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said recently during an interview with CNN. "We've been clear about that."
The Democratic leaders are simultaneously facing pressure from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to abandon the strategy.
"The president has appropriately delinked a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the massive, unrelated tax-and-spend plans that Democrats want to pursue on a partisan basis," McConnell, R-Ky., said in June. "Now I am calling on President Biden to engage Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and make sure they follow his lead."