Democratic lawmakers plan to pass a massive spending package via the reconciliation process this year, alongside the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill currently under negotiation, but still have to work out just how large that package will be.
In an interview with Maureen Dowd of The New York Times published Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he wants the bill to be as large as $6 trillion – enough to “address concerns progressives have had for decades.”
Sanders also said he would not support a package worth $2 trillion or $3 trillion. “That’s much too low,” he told Dowd.
But Sanders, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, faces a tough battle ahead to convince allies to go that high. Other Democratic committee members have settled on $3.5 trillion as a topline number for the reconciliation package that will focus on “soft” infrastructure such as child care and energy efficiency, Hans Nichols of Axios reports, though that number could well shrink once centrists in the party such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) get involved.
Tax revenues are key: With Manchin saying that he wants all spending paid for, the size of the package is probably inseparable from the revenues the reconciliation bill can generate.
Democrats in the Senate are reportedly considering about $2.4 trillion in tax increases, as well as legislation that would lower drug prices, for an additional savings of $600 billion over 10 years. That could give Democrats as much as $3 trillion to play with, which is reportedly the size of the package being considered by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), though even that may be too large.
“They’re all trying to figure out what the bottom line is,” a source told The Hill. Schumer is “trying to figure out: ‘What can I get my caucus to support? What’s the revenue number?’ It’s not clear to me he can get $3 trillion."
Republicans will fight: If Democrats stick together, the reconciliation process would require no support from across the aisle. But that doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t fight the tax and spending measures by seeking Democratic defectors – a major risk in a Congress that is so closely divided.
“If you have 10 House [Democratic] members, you can stop anything,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist told The Hill. “No Republican in the House or Senate will vote for tax increases.”
Tough battle ahead: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week promised a “hell of a fight” over the reconciliation bill, and that battle now kicks into a higher gear with the Senate returning to town Monday.
For now, the White House is letting lawmakers work out the details. Asked about Biden administration’s view on the size of the reconciliation package, press secretary Jen Psaki was noncommittal Monday. “I will say that, as it relates to the budget reconciliation process, that of course is for members of the Senate to work through what they can all collectively support together to get enough votes,” she told reporters. “We expect there to be some significant ups and downs but we are ready for it -- we’re bracing for it,” she added.