Democrats announce deal on $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill

Washington — Democratic senators announced on Tuesday evening that they reached a deal on a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that they will attempt to pass through reconciliation, a process that will allow the legislation to be approved without any Republican votes. The bill is expected to include President Biden’s “human” infrastructure priorities not covered by a bipartisan proposal, such as child care, health care, education and additional climate change-related provisions. 

Mr. Biden will meet with Democrats at their luncheon on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced after the meeting between Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday. Schumer also said that the bill will include an expansion of Medicare benefits to cover dental and vision, a priority for Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders.

“We are very proud of this plan. We know we have a long road to go. We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better,” Schumer said.

As this larger bill is unlikely to garner any Republican votes, it must receive support from all 50 Democrats, meaning that it will need support from both ideological ends of the party. Senators must first craft a budget resolution, which will lay out instructions for passing the bill through reconciliation.

Senator Mark Warner, one of the more moderate members of the Democratic caucus who is also one of the key negotiators of the bipartisan bill, told reporters that the reconciliation bill will be fully paid for. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin had previously raised concerns about the price tag for a reconciliation bill and said that he believes infrastructure legislation should be fully funded.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators and their staff are finalizing the language for a nearly $1 trillion bill that primarily addresses surface transportation and “traditional” infrastructure priorities, as well as some climate-related provisions on electric vehicles, a deal that has the support of Mr. Biden. But some Republicans outside of the team of core negotiators have raised concerns about how the package will be paid for, expressing skepticism about the proposal to fund part of it through tax enforcement.

Schumer has said that he would like to bring the bipartisan deal to the Senate floor by the week of July 19, but it’s unclear whether the language of the bill will be finalized by then. Lawmakers are set to leave Washington for several weeks at the beginning of August.

GOP Senator John Thune said Tuesday that he thought it was unlikely that the bipartisan group would be able to finish writing the bill and have it scored by the Congressional Budget Office by the end of this week. 

“I don’t see any way possible that this is on the floor next week, because there’s too many things left to do and scores to get and the pay-fors to explain and vet,” Thune said. The CBO score is expected to reveal how much the bill will actually cost — and whether the pay-fors suggested by senators would really cover the price.

Manchin, a moderate and one of the key negotiators crafting the bipartisan bill, told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks the legislation should be fully financed.

“Everything should be paid for,” Manchin said. “How much debt can y’all handle?”

The bill will need support from 10 Republicans along with all 50 Democrats to advance, and while 11 Republicans had previously suggested they would vote for the bipartisan proposal, some of them now seem to be getting cold feet. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also not yet endorsed the bill, and his opposition could sink its chances.

But Republican negotiators appeared confident that a sufficient number of GOP senators would support the bill. Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters after a meeting between the bipartisan senators on Tuesday evening that she was “feeling like the numbers are solid, and with the potential to grow.”

Murkowski also downplayed the role of the CBO score in convincing Republicans to support the bill.

“CBO is like this magic box somewhere that divines these numbers and we’re all kind of holding our breath until we see something that sends of right puff of smoke up,” she said. “Are we all going to pass out if the score doesn’t come out exactly the way we want? No.”

Senators in the bipartisan group also told reporters after the meeting on Tuesday evening that they hoped to resolve any remaining disagreements by Thursday. But even if the details haven’t been ironed out by then, senators indicated that they would continue negotiations.

“That’s kind of the target. We’ll see if we hit that target or not. Life doesn’t end if we still have some issues after Thursday,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen put it bluntly, saying that if the Thursday deadline is missed, then: “We’re just going to extend the deadline.”

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Senator Bernie Sanders talks to reporters outside the White House on Monday, July 12, 2021. AP Photo/Susan Walsh