On Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders released the budget resolution that authorized $3.5 trillion in spending for President Biden’s American Jobs and American Families plans. Its top-line priorities—families, climate, health care, infrastructure, and jobs—will include some of the priorities that went by the wayside in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Democratic leaders have been working on a two-track process for Biden’s plans since early in June, discussing what would be included in this budget reconciliation while the bipartisan effort played out over weeks in a series of fits and starts.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been maintaining for weeks that the bills have to come to the House in tandem, and that she will hold the bipartisan infrastructure bill from the floor until the Senate passes their reconciliation bill, later in September at the earliest. A handful of moderate Democrats—literally a handful, just six of them—are making noises to try to decouple the two bills and go forward on the bipartisan plan. That’s unlikely to work, given a much larger chunk of House Democrats, including some committee chairs, won’t vote for a bipartisan bill unless their priorities are coming to the floor as well.
Those priorities are many and crucial, and if the reconciliation bill passes along the framework created by this budget legislation, will be transformational. Note that what Schumer and Sanders released Monday is a list of priorities for the Senate committees, and it is not exhaustive. It’s a topline summary of the big-ticket items that need to be included, and provides no real details. It doles out the $3.5 trillion to the committees that will then figure out how to divvy it up—the instructions part—for a larger reconciliation, with general instructions on what has to be paid for.
Like free preschool and two years of tuition-free community college for, well, everyone. And a national paid leave program so that the U.S. can finally join the whole rest of the developed world in treating its citizens as something other than production units. And extending the expanded Child Tax Credit from the American Rescue Plan so that families can have just that much more financial security month to month, and extending the Earned Income Tax Credit so low-paid workers who don’t have children at home can also have just that bit of cushion. They could also have just that much more housing security, because the bill would increase investments in affordable housing—that’s safe and energy-efficient. They also would have food security with strengthened child nutrition programs.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities President Sharon Parrott described the proposal as “pointing the way toward a more equitable nation,” in a statement Monday. She points out that, prepandemic, “more than 1 in 4 households—including more than 1 in 3 households with children and 1 in 2 Black and Latino households with children—experienced a major hardship such as an inability to afford adequate food, housing, or utilities over a three-year period.” This legislation, she writes, “begins to move the country toward a very different future where all children can reach their full potential, where workers and those with fewer job prospects receive help to meet their needs and get ahead, where everyone has access to affordable, quality health coverage, and where the benefits of economic growth are far more broadly shared.”
That includes families of undocumented people. Sen. Bernie Sanders vowed Monday that “We will bring undocumented people out of the shadows and provide them with a pathway to citizenship, including those who courageously kept our economy running in the middle of a deadly pandemic.” That’s a commitment that Democrats have been making since Sen. Dick Durbin introduced the DREAM Act in 2001—20 years ago.
“Citizenship for America’s workforce is an investment in the American economy. Immigrant youth, TPS holders, farmworkers and essential workers are a key component of our labor force and our economy and are indispensable to our communities throughout the country,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said in a statement Monday. “By allowing them to apply for a path to citizenship, we will reap the benefits of higher wages, reduced deficits, and accelerated GDP growth.” For all those reasons, this provision meets the requirements of a budget reconciliation bill.
If the Senate parliamentarian doesn’t agree, Democrats need to remember one thing: she’s not in charge, and that her opinions are advisory only and can be overruled. This is a promise Democrats have to fulfill.
That also means expanded access to health care. For seniors and disabled people on Medicare, it means vision, dental, and hearing benefits covered by basic Medicare for the first time ever. For the 20 million people nationwide in the Medicaid gap who should be covered by the program but aren’t because of the irrational partisanship of Republican lawmakers, it would mean access to that coverage. It also means a that the increase in premium support for people buying individual insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges will continue to get that help.
Where the bipartisan infrastructure plan fails to meet the urgent challenge of climate change this framework calls for more. It creates tax incentives for clean energy, manufacturing and transportation, investing in public and green housing, and creating a Civilian Climate Corps. More than 80 House and Senate Democrats pushed for the inclusion of the new CCC in the bill, writing to Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi that the program would “provide employment opportunities; invest in natural climate solutions, clean energy, and resilience; and address environmental justice through locally-led, science-based projects.”
The group of lawmakers say that the program, based on FDR’s depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, would create jobs for people planting trees; restoring public lands; and dealing with the effects of climate change on forests and water systems. This version of CCC would advance equity across race, class, and geography. One of the program’s proponents, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, outlined the vision of a CCC that will “center justice and equity within the vision of a climate-safe future.” Meaning that “at least 50% of CCC funds and positions to go to environmental justice communities,” and that the CCC jobs provide “livable wages, health and child care access, and higher education support of up to $25,000 per year.”
This is a framework for action. Senate committees have their pots to divvy up: Health, Education, Labor and Pensions get $726.4 billion; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs gets $332 billion; and Energy and Natural Resources has $198 billion. Those are the big allocations, and the remainder goes to: Agriculture, $135 billion; Judiciary, $107.5 billion; Commerce, $83.076 billion; Environment and Public Works, $67.264 billion; Homeland Security, $37 billion; Small Business, $25 billion; Indian Affairs, $20.5 billion; and Veterans’ Affairs, $18 billion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the budget resolution in a statement Monday. “This resolution paves the path for progress for millions of Americans, including by creating good-paying jobs, building on our investments in infrastructure and supercharging America’s global competitiveness and economic growth,” she said, pledging the House will “work closely with the Senate.” That’s Pelosi subtly reminding everyone, especially the Senate, that the House has a say in this as well.