Senate Democrats Move Forward With $3.5 Trillion Budget Resolution

Following approval of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Democrats voted to begin debate on their $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which kicks off an hours-long ‘vote-a-rama.’

By Lisa Hagen

Senate Democrats voted Tuesday afternoon to proceed to their $3.5 trillion budget resolution on top party agenda items involving education, health care and climate that weren’t addressed in the bipartisan infrastructure package adopted by the upper chamber an hour earlier.

In a 50-49 vote, all Democrats voted to approve the motion to proceed and open debate on their spending plan that will tackle the remainder of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. No Republicans supported the procedural vote, but Democrats can move forward without them since they will pass legislation through the budget reconciliation process, which lowers the vote threshold from 60 to 51 votes to bypass filibusters.

The procedural vote on the budget measure came shortly after the Senate easily approved the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill with support from all Democrats and 19 Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Senate had a brief moment of bipartisanship Tuesday, but the second vote of the day divided the chamber once again.

“I do understand that many of my Republican colleagues are in a bit of shock. They are finding it hard to believe that the president and the Democratic caucus are prepared to go forward in addressing the long-neglected needs of working families and not just the 1% and wealthy campaign contributors,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who played a major role in crafting the resolution. “That’s not the way things usually happen around here.”

Following the vote on the motion to proceed, the Senate now moves to debate and a long vote series known as a vote-a-rama during which lawmakers will consider an unlimited number of non-binding amendments that can last hours. Once that concludes, lawmakers are expected to go home for August recess and committees with jurisdiction will help write the reconciliation bill over the next month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Monday that he’s giving committees until Sept. 15.

All 50 Senate Democrats have agreed to at least start the reconciliation process, but key moderates like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia won’t commit to the $3.5 trillion price tag. Progressives, who were initially seeking a higher amount, meanwhile fear compromise on the reconciliation bill will cut out key issues like climate-related ones that weren’t addressed in the bipartisan legislation.

And some progressives in the House are threatening to withhold support for the bipartisan bill if they don’t get commitments from other Democrats to ultimately back the reconciliation legislation.

But Democratic leadership in both chambers is fiercely supportive of adopting both bills in the fall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has said she won’t take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate also sends over Democrats’ spending plan.

Democrats will need to spend the next few weeks – or months – getting their ideologically diverse caucus on board in both chambers so they can fully pass both infrastructure bills. The party will eventually need uniform support and zero defections – plus Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote – since they will get no help from Republicans.

“If President Biden and 50 Senate Democrats want to outsource domestic policy to Chairman Sanders, if this historically reckless taxing the spending spree is how the modern Democratic Party wants to define itself, if they want inflation and tax hikes to be their legacy,” McConnell said Tuesday morning, “then Republicans do not currently have the votes to spare the American families (of) this nightmare.”