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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Monday unveiled a sweeping $3.5 trillion blueprint to boost social spending, raise taxes and pass a grab-bag of Democratic policies — from new pollution fees to immigration reform.
Democrats hope to ram the package through Congress without any Republican votes using special budget reconciliation rules on the heels of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s expected to pass the Senate Tuesday morning.
But Republicans are vowing to put up a fight — with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling it a “socialist shopping list” that would turn the US into a European-stye welfare state.
The blueprint says Democrat-led committees will draft wording that establishes free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and two years of free community college. The bill also would give subsidies for childcare and family and sick leave. The White House previously proposed capping childcare expenses for most workers at 7 percent of income and subsidizing 12 weeks of paid non-vacation leave.
The bill also resurrects a plan previously priced at $400 billion to fund long-term home and community health care programs for seniors and people with disabilities.
The plan says $332 billion would go toward a set of funds for public housing and to “improve housing affordability and equity by providing down payment assistance, rental assistance, and other homeownership initiatives.”
A Democratic fact sheet calls for vast federal renewable energy projects, climate change research and enactment of new pollution fees on methane and carbon emissions.
The bill would hike taxes on businesses and incomes over $400,000 while also making the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap more generous, in effect lowering taxes for some residents of high-tax jurisdictions like New York.
The budget reconciliation bill can pass with a simple majority in the Senate, where both parties hold 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris breaks ties. And many of the details remain vague and will have to be hashed out through amendments and talks among Democrats.
The release of the blueprint comes as the Senate gears up to pass the $1 trillion bipartisan bill and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) threatens to stall a House vote until the massive second bill clears the Senate.
Although Republicans fear the bill would further increase inflation, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-identified socialist who lost the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to President Biden, said it would bring greater fairness.
Sanders wrote in a FoxNews op-ed that “inflation-accounted-for weekly wages for the average worker have not risen in 50 years” and that “over half of our people live paycheck to paycheck.”
“For too many decades, Congress has ignored the needs of the working class, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. Now is the time for bold action. Let’s go forward together,” Sanders wrote.
It’s unclear if the blueprint’s instructions to grant green cards to “qualified immigrants” intend to legalize people currently in the US illegally, as many Democrats want. Immigration policy changes may ultimately be struck down as too tangential to the budget by the Senate parliamentarian, who earlier this year axed a proposed $15 national minimum wage from a different bill on that premise.
It’s also unclear how the final bill would alter the $10,000 SALT cap — with the blueprint calling only for “SALT cap relief.”
A single Democratic vote against the package in the Senate could doom the entire effort, and there will be a grueling series of amendment votes and a weeks-long period of actually writing one of the largest bills in US history.
Centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are expected to force substantial changes and potentially sink certain items altogether. For example, Manchin has opposed a national universal preschool program, noting that his state set up such a program without federal help.
The White House and Democrats have framed the package as “human infrastructure” that they say will complement the “physical infrastructure” bill, which funds bridges, roads, railways, airports, water infrastructure, broadband internet and other areas with substantial bipartisan support.
The bill also would dramatically increase funds for electric vehicles and non-fossil fuel energy production, though estimated dollar amounts weren’t in the new blueprint, which calls for “financing for domestic manufacturing of clean energy and auto supply chain technologies” and “electrifying the federal vehicle fleet.”
Schumer said he plans to fast-track the measure after the chamber passes the bipartisan bill.
“[W]e are on track to pass the most consequential ‘hard’ infrastructure legislation in decades. As soon as we complete this track, I will immediately move to the FY2022 Budget Resolution with reconciliation instructions,” Schumer said in a letter to Democrats.
“The committees with reconciliation instructions will work closely with their House counterparts to write this legislation. The Budget Resolution provides a target date of September 15th to the committees to submit their reconciliation legislation.”
Schumer wrote that Democrats will “meet, as a caucus, during the week of the 15th to review the bill.”
Top Republicans have blasted the plans, accusing members across the aisle of moving forward with a “massive spending spree” that they argue will have a negative impact on inflation.
Republicans plan to campaign against the bill by pointing to substantial conservative support for the narrower infrastructure bill that includes $550 billion in new spending over five years.
“[Schumer] has indicated that in a few days, he will thrust the Senate into an ultra-partisan showdown over the staggeringly reckless taxing and spending spree that Democrats want to ram through later this year,” McConnell said Saturday.
“The size and scope of Chairman Sanders’ socialist shopping list will make every disagreement we’ve had in landing the infrastructure compromise look like a rounding error.”
McConnell said he objected to policies including, “New permanent welfare with no work requirements. Reams of Green New Deal mandates. Massive tax hikes that shrink wages and kill jobs. Government meddling in childcare that would privilege certain families’ choices over others’. Amnesty for illegal immigrants in the middle of a border crisis.”
The new measure left out a provision to raise the debt limit, teeing up a fight between the parties over the country’s borrowing limit.
Republicans had called on Democrats to attach the language while pushing back on the Democrat-led bill, taking aim at its potential impact on the deficit.