Last week resulted in an initial agreement between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators on an infrastructure bill while Congressional Democrats focused on what should be included in a fall reconciliation bill.
On Thursday, June 24, 2021, a group of Democratic and Republican senators gathered at the White House along with the President to announce the outlines of what they feel can reach bipartisan support that could gain at least 60 votes and interrupt a Senate filibuster. That proposed deal would be smaller than what President Biden had initially described in the spring, but it could help to assure support by some reluctant Senate Democrats to provide the necessary support for a second larger reconciliation measure that could pass the Senate with 50 votes plus Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. The separate infrastructure bill would not include the President’s proposed tax increases on corporations and people making over $400,000. It would be limited to what some people see as “traditional” infrastructure, including highways, bridges, mass transit, and some water and broadband categories of need. Still, some items left out (including taxes) could be added to the reconciliation.
Controversy later followed with the President indicating that passage of the infrastructure bill must be linked to the passage of another reconciliation bill that would address much of the President’s American Family Plan. Similar comments were made by both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).
While the negotiations on an infrastructure bill were progressing, Senate Democrats were beginning to pull together the elements of a $6 trillion budget resolution with a draft by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (Chair of the Budget Committee) circulating between offices. The resolution would enable a reconciliation process that bypasses the filibuster, but it must exist under complicated budget and spending rules that sometimes prohibit the inclusion of some popular items, for example, a minimum wage increase.
A reconciliation is the only way for President Biden to get the key elements of his American Families Plan, including an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) that can lift approximately 4 million children out of poverty, an expanded child care system, a paid family and medical leave program as well as several environmental, health care, and perhaps immigration reforms long sought by Senate Democrats and the President.
This looks to be a long legislative session. The Senate has left for the July 4th break. When they return on July 12th, they are likely to finalize what is in the budget resolution. Senate Democrats could then move that resolution to the end of July before the summer/August break. In the meantime, the House has begun moving appropriations out of committee with floor votes on all 12 appropriations bills expected to take place the last two weeks of July. The House also has to approve the identical budget resolution. When both houses return after Labor Day, the real work takes place as to what gets into a reconciliation, how it is paid for and how the tax structure is changed (beyond the increased CTC and EITC). At the same time, work will have to take place on the infrastructure bill, with each bill on different procedural tracks—all of that with both parties attempting to maintain their party unity.
Other possible elements of a reconciliation:
- Health care could expand the ACA through tax credits and mandates. Of crucial importance is getting 12 hold out states (including the large states of Texas and Florida) to extend Medicaid coverage. They have refused the ACA expansion of coverage of individuals and families to 138 percent of poverty despite the federal government covering 95 percent of the cost. Significantly these uninsured people include over two million people of color. Other health care options include an expansion of Medicare by lowering the age or expanding coverage to items such as dental care. Other critical issues include expanding Puerto Rico and other territories’ access to Medicaid.
- Education coverage could include two years of free community college as Biden seeks or one proposal created an option of two years of community college or the first two years of college.
- Housing reforms could include expanded housing vouchers for families with a Senator Sanders version allocating a potential $330 billion more than Biden on affordable housing programs, including a new multiyear rental voucher program for low-income families.
- Immigration reform would likely start with an exceptionally long overdue Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill and other items, including a pathway to lawful permanent resident status for certain protected categories such as beneficiaries, farmworkers, essential workers, and those with Temporary Protected Status from certain countries.