On August 9, Senate Democrats unveiled their $3.5 trillion budget resolution plan. The budget resolution sets out the congressional budget for a specific year. It is not presented to the president nor does it have the force of law. Through the budget resolution, Congress establishes its annual total spending, revenues, deficit or surplus, and public debt.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders released the budget plan and stated that Democrats aim to use budget reconciliation to pass it. Through the budget reconciliation parliamentary procedure, Democrats can override filibuster rules in the Senate that require a 60 vote supermajority for a bill to be passed. Instead, Democrats will now only need a 51 vote majority to pass the bill.
The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. If 51 votes cannot be secured, Vice President Kamala Harris will come in to break the tie, which will inevitably be in the interest of Democrats. So, as long as Democrats get their 50 senators to support the $3.5 trillion budget resolution plan, it will be passed through the Senate.
In a letter to Democrat members, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the Senate will immediately consider the budget resolution with reconciliation instructions once the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package is passed.
Schumer revealed that he and Sanders are in “regular contact” with House Speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Chairman of the House Budget Committee Democrat John Yarmouth. They are working closely to prepare the instructions for reconciliation.
“The Budget Resolution provides a target date of September 15th to the committees to submit their reconciliation legislation. We will work towards this goal and meet, as a caucus, during the week of the 15th to review the bill,” the letter said. These are several of the major elements included in the budget resolution:
- $726 billion for Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, with instructions to address some of the Democratic Party’s top priorities like (a) childcare for working families, (b) universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds, (c) funding for historically black universities and colleges, (d) tuition-free community college, and (e) expanding the Pell Grant for higher education.
- $332 billion for the Banking Committee, with the funds expected to be invested in public housing, the Housing Trust Fund, community land trusts, and housing affordability.
- $198 billion allocated for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, mostly to be used for clean energy development.
- $135 billion is set aside for the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, to be used to address reduction in carbon emissions, forest fires, and droughts.
- $107 billion for the Judiciary Committee for addressing the “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants.”
Democrats plan on paying for the budget by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations. Senators Angus King and Elizabeth Warren are soon expected to unveil a proposal to tax corporations seven percent on profits above the first $100 million reported to investors. The tax rule will apparently collect $700 billion from 1,300 companies, according to a Warren aide.
Opposition, debt limit
The budget reconciliation plan has met with resistance from members of the Democratic Party. Last month, Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced her disapproval of the bill.
“I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this [budget resolution] process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” Sinema said.
Democrat Joe Manchin said that he isn’t “making any promises” as to whether he will support the $3.5 trillion bill. He said that the bill’s climate change provisions need to move through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that he chairs. Democrat Mark Warner from Virginia isn’t sure how moderates within the party will vote on the budget.
Senate Minority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell calls the $3.5 trillion plan “reckless.” He has warned Democrats against attempting to pass it without Republican support.
“If our colleagues want to ram through yet another reckless tax and spending spree without our input, if they want all this spending and debt to be their signature legacy, they should leap at the chance to own every bit of it… So let me make something perfectly clear: If they don’t need or want our input, they won’t get our help with the debt limit increase that these reckless plans will require,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The Democrat budget resolution plan does not mention raising America’s debt limit. Currently, the debt limit is set at $28.5 trillion. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for hiking the ceiling on a “bipartisan basis” rather than via budget reconciliation. Raising the debt limit will allow the Treasury to pay for existing debts and expenditures. Failure to do so would result in “irreparable harm” to the American economy and its people, Yellen warned.
Increasing the debt ceiling without budget reconciliation would require 60 votes in the Senate. Ten Republicans would have to support it. If both parties cannot raise the debt ceiling by September 30, the U.S. could end up defaulting on loans and the government might be forced to shut down.
“In recent years Congress has addressed the debt limit through regular order, with broad bipartisan support. In fact, during the last administration, Democrats and Republicans came together to do their duty three times. Congress should do so again now by increasing or suspending the debt limit on a bipartisan basis,” Yellen said in a statement.