Senate Democrats are looking at potentially using an arcane budget process twice more this year in an effort to ensure they can pass President Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure project with just a simple Democratic majority.
The effort underscores the narrow margins Democrats have to pass the Biden agenda, and the move comes as some moderates in the party had hoped that leadership would make a more direct effort to work with Republicans to pass an infrastructure bill.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been engaged in conversations with the Senate’s parliamentarian about whether they can use the 2021 budget resolution – the same vehicle they used to pass the Covid relief bill – again, according to a Schumer aide. In the past, senators had just one opportunity to use each budget resolution per fiscal year. That meant in this case senators had just one more budget resolution they could use.
But Democratic leaders believe they can use a specific provision in the Congressional Budget Act that would allow them to offer a “concurrent” resolution and therefore allow them another chance at reconciliation. The move would enrage Republicans who had already criticized Democrats for using the reconciliation process to advance their Covid relief bill. No final decisions have been made, and the Senate’s parliamentarian has not ruled.
The Biden administration has said they plan to spend $3 trillion in two steps. One of the infrastructure plans would be legislation that focuses on traditional infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, rail and broadband. The other would be a set of projects geared more toward helping American workers.
The House could pass the bills separately, but in the Senate, it was less clear. Senators could always elect to combine the bills into one massive package if they had just one reconciliation tool, but one of the concerns is that doing so would eliminate any hope that Republicans could get behind it. Keeping the packages separate could give Democrats more room to win over some moderate Republicans on the piece of the package that dealt directly with traditional infrastructure.
The push toward infrastructure comes as lawmakers are on a two-week recess and as Democrats are engaged in a caucus-wide discussion about whether or not to change the rules of the filibuster. There currently is not enough support to do that, but getting rid of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate would unlock another way Democrats could push through infrastructure without Republican vote.
There are still plenty of outstanding issues on how Democrats plan to pursue infrastructure and it’s still expected to take months before a bill would be on the floor. Timing is one factor, but another is how much of the infrastructure package should be paid for. Democrats are divided over whether some, none or all of the project should be offset. And how you pay for the package is another question entirely.
Democrats are entertaining a wide array of options including increasing the corporate tax rate, which currently sits at 21%. For every point the corporate tax rate is raised, the estimate from the Joint Committee on Taxation is that it raises about $100 billion over a decade.
Democrats are also eying proposals to cut the cost of prescription drugs. Some of the plans that allow Medicaid to directly negotiate with insurers could save the federal government between $350 billion and $500 billion over a decade.
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to unveil a restructuring of the international tax system as another potential way to pay for infrastructure. That plan is due out in the next several days.