The Senate on Tuesday voted to open debate on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and has now begun a series of votes on amendments that could go late into the night before final passage.
If both chambers of Congress adopt the budget resolution, then Democrats could draft a sweeping legislative package to advance many of their party's priorities -- on issues from health care to immigration to climate change -- that could be approved on a straight party-line vote and would not be subject to the filibuster's 60-vote threshold.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now halfway toward his two-track goal of advancing both a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which cleared the upper chamber by a wide bipartisan majority on Tuesday morning, and adopting a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions, before the Senate bolts for its weeks-long summer recess.
The vote to proceed to the budget resolution passed along party lines 50-49 on Tuesday and soon after the Senate began what's known as a "vote-a-rama," where senators can theoretically offer as many amendments as they want.
These marathon voting sessions can go for hours and often all night. The amendments are not binding, but they serve as a way for each party to force the other side on the record about controversial issues. This is where future political ads are born.
Once senators have had enough and tire out, the Senate will vote to adopt the budget resolution. This resolution will also need to be passed by the House, which is already on recess and currently not set to return until the fall.
Democrats are able to go around Republicans and the legislative filibuster by using the arcane process of budget reconciliation to pass their plan. The caveat is, everything in the package has to directly impact the budget, by either raising revenue or adding to the deficit and that impact cannot be merely "incidental."
So, some provisions -- like Democrats' aim to try and include a provision with a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- will likely be challenged and it will ultimately be up to the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to decide whether that measure can be included under the special budget process.
The budget blueprint includes many of the family programs President Joe Biden has championed, including establishing a universal Pre-K program for 3- and 4-year-olds and extending the new child tax credit.
It also calls for the creation of the first-ever federal Paid Family and Medical Leave benefit.
The budget resolution recommends reducing the price of prescription drugs, as well as adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare and lowering the program's eligibility age -- major provisions long advocated for by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats.
The framework additionally calls for "historic" investments in affordable housing.
It includes many provisions tackling climate change, and outlines investments aimed to meet Biden's goal for the country to reduce carbon emissions by 50% and for the power grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources before 2030.
The framework contains directives to provide green cards to millions of immigrant workers and families, as well as border funding toward "safe and efficient borders for trade, travel and migration."
The budget resolution additionally includes a series of tax increases and other offsets to help finance the sweeping plan.
The Senate Budget Committee says that the investments will be fully offset by a combination of new tax revenues, health care savings and long-term economic growth. The instructions also list corporate and international tax reform and Internal Revenue Service tax enforcement as options -- both of which Republicans shot down in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
A memorandum to Democratic senators sent Monday specifies that new taxes on families making fewer than $400,000 a year, small businesses and family farms would be prohibited.
When the budget resolution is adopted, it becomes the job of a dozen Senate committees to write the reconciliation bill, with the goal of submitting legislation by a deadline of September 15.
Schumer said Democrats' sweeping infrastructure plan aims to invest in four major buckets: families, climate, health care, and infrastructure and jobs, and called it "the most significant legislation for American families since the era of the New Deal and the Great Society."
On the climate portion, he vowed that the budget reconciliation bill will "do more to combat climate change than any legislation, ever, ever, in the history of the Senate. That is a promise."
Republicans have strongly rebuked Democrats' massive infrastructure package as a partisan reckless spending spree. Schumer on Monday pushed back against GOP criticism of the high price tag of the package, arguing "we plan to pay for this package by making the wealthy pay their fair share."
The $3.5 trillion price tag also has raised concerns among some moderate members of the Democratic caucus. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said late last month that she does not support the bill at its current cost though she signaled she's willing to negotiate.
"I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion -- and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families get ahead," Sinema said in a statement.
Schumer has zero margin for error as all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus need to be on board in order to advance and ultimately pass this legislation.
Both parties have used this budget tool to pass key priorities, avoiding the high 60-vote threshold in the chamber. Democrats used the process earlier this year to pass a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and Republicans used it in 2017 to advance former President Donald Trump's major tax cuts plan, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the CBO projected would add $1.9 trillion to the deficit.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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