The $3.5 trillion budget agreement between Senate Budget Committee Democrats and the White House is somewhat short on specifics right now, but long on potential impact. It’s not the $6 trillion that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Washington state Rep. Pramila Jayapal—leader of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus—had been advocating. On the other hand, they did a damned good job opening the Overton window with that $6 trillion figure to land on $3.5 instead of the $1.5 or $2 trillion figure that moderates had been tossing around.
The two had been working closely together to make sure that progressive priorities were in the package, according to CNN. “We just spoke this morning. We talked the other night. We talked several days ago,” Jayapal said Wednesday. “We’re in very close coordination,” she added. From her perspective, this is “important movement forward” on the key priorities her group had identified: climate change, expanding Medicare and Medicaid, expanding the child tax credit. She also said that this is just the start. “I don’t want people to think that if we do this package we are done,” she said.
As for the lower total top-line number, she’s practical. “There are different ways to get a lower number. And if the lower number is because some programs are not for the full 10 years, but they are still universal benefits and they’re for long enough that Americans get to see what they are getting … that is one thing, versus just cutting something completely.” That’s pragmatic—5 years of expanded child tax credits instead of 10 is less certainty, but it’s also providing a critical benefit to every family with children that will be unthinkable to take away after those 5 years. That’s true of free community college. It’s true of Medicaid expansion to the 2.2 million people who are caught in the gap without coverage.
Sanders is also pleased. “This is the most consequential program in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “It’ll impact millions of working-class people. I’m very proud of what we have.” What they have is again, not well-defined yet, but the priorities are there. That’s recognized too by climate hawk Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. “We’re facing several interlocking crises—especially a climate crisis. This package is a good start on attacking that, and we’ve got to keep working hard to get meaningful climate action in the final deal. It’s not the overall topline number I wanted, but it’s a great first step,” Markey said Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean progressives are going to stop pushing to make sure that their priorities are not short-changed or cut entirely in the process of divvying up that $3.5 trillion. Nor will they back off of their insistence, backed up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that the House won’t vote on the potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the Senate before they vote on the larger reconciliation bill.
Speaking of that bipartisan bill, it still hasn’t been written and Republicans are still dragging their feet. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to light a fire under them, though.
That cloture vote next Wednesday means that 10 Republican senators will have to finally step up, because the bipartisan bill doesn’t move forward without 60 votes. As of now, who knows whether Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lets that happen. Thursday morning, he called the budget resolution announcement “yet another socialist” spending plan after calling it “wildly out of proportion” on Wednesday, setting the stage for Republicans to back out of the effort entirely.
Or not. According to Politico’s sources, McConnell is “privately telling his members to separate that [bipartisan] effort from Democrats’ party-line $3.5 trillion spending plan and publicly observed there’s a ‘decent’ chance for its success.” He reportedly “understands the bipartisan appeal of infrastructure and views it as less ideological than other Democratic priorities.”
One Democrat thinks that McConnell is listening to his members. “His problem is that many of his members like what’s in it,” Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said. “McConnell is going to have a hard time keeping his caucus together if he decides to oppose it.” That remains to be seen starting on Wednesday, with that cloture vote.
The bipartisan group is unlikely to actually have bill text by next Wednesday, so what Schumer will put to a vote is a shell that can later be amended to include the bill text. If it ever comes together. It’s a smart move to try to force Republicans to finally get serious about the nearly $600 billion physical infrastructure bill. Including how to pay for it. We’ll see as early as next week now many Republicans really like what’s in it.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.