Senate Democrats early Wednesday passed a $3.5 trillion spending blueprint for President Joe Biden’s top priorities in a 50-49 vote along party lines — and much of the budget plan will be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
The senators held a 15-hour “vote-a-rama,” a nonstop string of messaging amendments that resulted in 40 roll calls by the time the measure was approved at around 4 a.m. in a crucial step for a president and party set on training the government’s fiscal might on helping families, creating jobs and fighting climate change.
Besides higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, Democrats envision savings by letting the government negotiate prices for pharmaceuticals it purchases, slapping taxes on imported carbon fuels and strengthening IRS tax collections.
Democrats have said their policies will be fully paid for — but they’ll make no final decisions until this fall’s follow-up bill.
The passage came despite a cascade of Republican amendments intended to make their rivals pay a price in next year’s elections for control of Congress.
House leaders announced that their chamber will return from summer recess in two weeks to vote on the fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years.
A final congressional approval would protect a subsequent bill actually enacting the measure’s detailed spending and tax changes from a GOP filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, delays that would otherwise kill it.
Even so, pushing through the follow-up legislation will be tricky with party moderates wary of the huge $3.5 trillion price tag vying with progressives calling aggressive action. The party controls the House with just three votes to spare, while the evenly divided Senate is theirs only due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the measure would help children, families, the elderly and working people — and more.
“It will also, I hope, restore the faith of the American people in the belief that we can have a government that works for all of us, and not just the few,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured progressives that Congress will pursue sweeping initiatives that go beyond the infrastructure package.
“To my colleagues who are concerned that this does not do enough on climate, for families, and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share: We are moving on to a second track, which will make a generational transformation in these areas,” the New York Democrat said.
With the budget resolution mostly advisory, the goal of most amendments was actually to force the other party’s vulnerable senators to cast troublesome votes that can be used against them in next year’s elections for congressional control.
Republicans gloated after Democrats opposed GOP amendments calling for the reopening of pandemic-shuttered schools, boosting the Pentagon’s budget and retaining limits on federal income tax deductions for state and local levies.
They also were pleased when Democrats showed support for the president’s now-suspended ban on oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which Republicans said would lead to gas price hikes.
One amendment may have backfired after the Senate voted 99-0 for a proposal by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama to curb federal funds for any municipalities that defund police.
That idea has been rejected by all but the most progressive Democrats, but Republicans have accused them anyway of backing it.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) called the freshman Republican’s amendment “a gift” that would let Democrats “put to bed this scurrilous accusation that somebody in this great esteemed body would want to defund the police.”
He added that he wanted to “walk over there and hug my colleague.”
Republicans claimed two narrow victories with possible implications for future votes, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joining them on both nonbinding amendments.
One indicated support for health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions and the other voiced opposition to teaching critical race theory, which considers racism endemic to American institutions.
The blueprint envisions the creation of new programs including tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave and a Civilian Climate Corps whose workers would tackle environmental projects.
Millions of illegal immigrants would have a new chance for citizenship; there would be financial incentives for states to adopt more labor-friendly laws; Medicare would add dental, hearing and vision benefits, and tax credits; and grants would prod utilities and industries to embrace clean energy.
Child tax credits strengthened for the pandemic would be extended, along with federal subsidies for health insurance.
With Post wires