President Biden ventured to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lobby Senate Democrats to rally behind a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package.
Mr. Biden, speaking at a lunch meeting of the entire Senate Democratic Conference, urged lawmakers to unite behind the deal and “get this done” for the American people.
“The president makes an incredibly compelling case that this is the moment to go big,” said Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat. “This is a moment you have to be able to deliver real money in the pockets of Americans that are hurting.”
The president visited Capitol Hill one day after Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee agreed to a tentative framework. The panel will be responsible for shepherding the package through the budget reconciliation process.
Reconciliation, which allows spending bills to avert the Senate‘s 60-vote threshold that most legislation must clear and instead pass a simple majority of 51 votes, is the only option because Republican support is unlikely for the detail given the subject matter.
Although details are sparse, an outline of the deal indicates that it aims for a “bold and robust” expansion of the social safety net. The deal goes further than even Mr. Biden initially proposed.
Earlier this year, the White House suggested spending up to $1.9 trillion or more on “human infrastructure” such as job training for felons and home care for the elderly. Senate Democrats, led by Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, expanded the deal significantly.
“I think we are making progress in moving forward with the most consequential piece of legislation passed for working people since the 1930s,” said Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist from Vermont. “And it’s legislation which is finally going to ask the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share.”
The package now includes paid family leave, broadened access to child care and free community college. Money is further earmarked for racial justice programs and for local governments to deploy broadband internet service.
Pushing the package’s price tag upward is a provision authored by Mr. Sanders that expands Medicare benefits to cover hearing, vision and dental services. Mr. Sanders further secured a change to the program’s prescription drug pricing system.
Although the package is championed by Mr. Biden, it remains to be seen whether it can garner the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
To pacify liberals, who threatened to withhold support if climate change was not addressed, the deal was changed to include mandates for a 100% carbon-free electricity standard.
Such a provision, though, may wind up ostracizing Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and a key moderate swing vote. Mr. Manchin, who has pledged to oppose the package unless it is fully funded without relying on deficit spending, said phasing fossil fuels out of the electrical grid was a red line.
“I’m concerned about maintaining the energy independence that the United States of America has,” said Mr. Manchin. “And with that, you can not be moving towards eliminating [fossil fuels]. … if my friends and colleagues think they can eliminate their way to a cleaner environment it’ll never happen.”