© Reuters. The exterior of the US Capitol is seen as Senators work to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Washington, U.S., August 8, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Monday released some details of the $3.5 trillion bill addressing social spending and immigration that they aim to push through after passing the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
The first details of the larger bill — a key goal for progressive Democrats — showed that it would provide tax incentives for “clean” manufacturing, make community college free for two years and provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrant workers.
The first bill https://www.reuters.com/world/us/whats-us-senates-bipartisan-1-trillion-infrastructure-bill-2021-08-03, which sits atop Democratic President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda and includes $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and internet access, cleared an important procedural hurdle late on Sunday when the Senate voted 69-28 in support of the provisions contained in the 2,702-page plan.
The Senate also voted 68-29 to limit further debate to a maximum of 30 hours, setting up a potential vote on passage early on Tuesday on the package, the result of months of bipartisan negotiations.
The massive spending bill is popular among many lawmakers in both parties because of the federal dollars it would deliver to their home states. Polls also show that Americans at large are supportive of it.
But the moment of bipartisanship that produced it was likely to be fleeting as Democrats prepare to turn their attention next to the larger bill, which they aim to pass over Republican objections using a parliamentary maneuver called “budget reconciliation https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-senates-reconciliation-process-its-not-way-it-sounds-2021-06-16.”
Democrats are aiming to debate and pass this nonbinding resolution in coming days, which would serve as a framework for more detailed, binding legislation later this year. Republicans have strenuously objected to the size and cost of the follow-up package.
The ambitious goals of this budget plan will be reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian, who has the power to strip out provisions found to be at odds with Senate rules. The full Senate, however, could vote to over-rule such decisions.
In a letter to senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the budget plan is aimed at “restoring the middle class” by making education, child care and housing more affordable.
A separate Democratic memo says the $3.5 trillion costs would be fully paid for by a combination of tax increases, savings in federal health care programs and projected long-term economic growth.
The latter claim is debated by many economists who often disagree over the accuracy of the economic impact stemming from new policies enacted by Washington.
There would be no tax increases for those making under $400,000 a year, Democrats said.
The tax increases, which already have been previewed by the Biden administration and Senate Democrats, would hit high-income earners and would be coupled with beefed-up IRS tax enforcement. The measure also calls for a “carbon polluter import fee.”
The plan also called for extending a new, expanded child tax credit that progressives wanted to make permanent. And it would provide “relief” to tax filers bumping up against a cap on a state and local tax deduction tightened by a 2017 Republican-backed tax law.
Still unclear is whether Democrats will attach a debt limit increase to the reconciliation bill that will be developed in coming weeks or will seek another way of raising Washington’s nearly exhausted borrowing authority.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday again urged Congress to take quick action in a bipartisan way.
The Senate worked for a second straight weekend to advance the infrastructure bill aimed at repairing, expanding and improving roads, bridges, waterworks and schools, while also expanding high-speed internet service in underserved areas.
During debate on Sunday, Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada noted the boost for her state’s mining industry, saying new money would strengthen “a critical mineral and battery supply chain that supplies key components of cellphones and laptops, electric vehicles, solar panels and more.”
The Senate had been scheduled to begin a four-week summer recess, but instead found itself in session on both Saturday and Sunday, which saw little more than occasional speeches before the procedural votes.
Even with passage of the bill this week, senators will still not be able to go back to their home states or jump onto foreign trips popular during long recesses.
That is because Schumer aims to launch immediately into debate of the budget framework providing the outlines for the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that Democrats want to begin advancing in September.
Passing any major legislation is difficult given the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with Democrats claiming a majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives.
If the $1 trillion bill is approved by the Senate, as expected, the House would still have to debate and vote on it, sometime after it returns in late September from its summer break.