Members of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s leadership team contradicted his claims Thursday that Democrats had agreed to a “framework” of tax hikes to pay for a $3.5 trillion expansion of the federal welfare state.
Mr. Schumer’s closest allies, including Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, said they had not seen the framework or agreed to its contents.
“I haven’t seen it,” said Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.
He was among several in the leadership team who said they weren’t part of an agreement.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, claimed that there was no formal agreement.
“We don’t, we don’t have an agreement, we on the Finance Committee have gone through a list of things and what they would raise,” said Mr. Stabenow, a member of the committee. “It’s basically a menu of choices.”
She said that there was no consensus on which taxes, including those on corporate and personal income, to raise to pay for President Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan. Rather, she argued, House and Senate Democrats had simply compiled both of their tax proposals together and would now start debating which to adopt.
“We have to start with what the options are and then see what we can agree on,” she said.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont, went a step further. He said Mr. Schumer’s announcement did not amount to “not a whole lot.”
“We’ve been through this a million times,” said Mr. Sanders, who is responsible for overseeing the drafting of the massive spending bill. “There are many, many approaches as to how you can raise money … so if that’s what the menu is, [it’s] nothing particularly new I think.”
Earlier Thursday at a press conference with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Schumer declared that an agreement had been reached on funding the spending package.
“The White House, the House and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “So the revenue side of this, we have an agreement on.”
The announcement, which was seconded by Mrs. Pelosi and Ms. Yellen, caught lawmakers off guard on both sides of the Capitol. One of Mrs. Pelosi’s top lieutenants, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, was startled reporters informed him of the announcement.
“I think things are still being worked out,” said Mr. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “But I’m confident we will get to the finish line.”
Democrats are pitching the $3.5 trillion spending bill to voters as “human infrastructure.” They say the package complements the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that focuses on roads, bridges, railway and airport projects.
The bigger bill amounts to a wish list of liberal priorities such as proposals for climate change, tuition-free community college and expanded healthcare programs.
To pay for the program, House Democrats have proposed 40 new tax hikes, impacting corporations, the wealthy and average individuals. The menu of hikes ranges from doubling the federal tobacco tax to more than $2 per pack, to boosting the top income tax rate to 39.6% from 37%, adding up to one of the largest tax increases in U.S. history.
Given Republicans’ solid opposition, Democrats plan to pass the $3.5 trillion package via a special process known as budget reconciliation. It allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the Senate‘s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes.
Since the Senate is evenly split between both parties, every single Democrat needs to be on board for the reconciliation package to succeed. At the moment, the passage of the bill is far from assured.
“I’m almost as anxious to get that information as you are,” said Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, told reporters about the framework.