Democrats expect unity on budget as they eye early August vote

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that he’s confident all 50 Democrats will support the fiscal 2022 budget resolution, the first step in the reconciliation process for enacting President Joe Biden’s economic agenda without GOP votes that he expects the Senate to consider in early August.

“My hope is that by early August we will have a budget proposal to bring to the floor for a vote and do what the American people want and that is create a budget that works for working families and not just the wealthy and the lobbyists and their campaign contributors,” the Vermont independent said. 

“As I’ve said many times, I’m confident we’re going to have 50 votes plus the vice president to support reconciliation,” Sanders added. 

The Budget chairman said his staff is already working on drafting the resolution, despite not having finalized specific reconciliation instructions for each committee breaking down the $3.5 trillion spending topline top Democrats agreed to last week. 

“At the appropriate time we’ll have all the details,” he said. 

The Senate is scheduled to adjourn for its summer recess on Aug. 6. If Democrats stick to that schedule, that means the budget resolution would be debated on the floor that first week of August. 

But that timeline depends in large part on how quickly a bipartisan group of senators can wrap up negotiations on a separate but connected infrastructure bill that would provide $579 billion in new spending on roads, bridges, water, broadband and other “hard” infrastructure. That measure has to move first, because if the Senate can’t pass it, Democrats plan to fold that new spending into the reconciliation target, bringing the topline to $4.1 trillion. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer wanted to begin floor consideration of the bipartisan bill Wednesday, but Republicans objected to proceeding without a final agreement and working text. The Senate rejected, 49-51, Schumer’s motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle for the measure, with Schumer switching his vote to “no” to preserve the option of bringing it back up.

The bipartisan group is angling to finalize an agreement in time to have a new cloture vote on Monday, which would allow the Senate to spend next week debating the bill. But it’s unlikely that the text and scoring will be finalized — let alone leadership securing a coalition of at least 60 senators to support it — quickly enough for the Senate to finish the bill that week.

If the bipartisan bill debate spills into the first week of August, the budget resolution debate might not begin until late that week or the following week, when recess is scheduled to begin. Schumer has repeatedly warned that the Senate will stay in session as long as it takes to complete both measures. 

“I have every intention of passing both major infrastructure packages — the bipartisan infrastructure framework and a budget resolution with reconciliation instructions — before we leave for the August recess,” Schumer said in floor remarks Wednesday.

Missed deadline

The Senate’s rejection Wednesday of proceeding to the bipartisan bill was Republicans dismissing Schumer’s “artificial deadline” to have the package done. Schumer, however, countered that he never expected the bill text to be finalized by Wednesday.

In announcing the cloture vote last Thursday, Schumer also set a deadline for Democrats to say they’d support the same procedural process for bringing a budget resolution to the floor later this summer. 

“I am setting the same deadline — next Wednesday — for the entire Senate Democratic Caucus to agree to move forward on the budget resolution with reconciliation instructions,” he said. 

The need to get Democrats to sign off on the budget resolution ahead of it being finalized stemmed from progressive concerns that if they supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill that moderates who negotiated that might not support the reconciliation process. The budget resolution is the first step in crafting a filibuster-proof reconciliation bill, as it is a vehicle to provide committees with spending and revenue targets to guide their drafting of reconciliation legislation. 

Schumer’s deadline came after he and Democrats on the Budget Committee reached agreement with the White House on a $3.5 trillion spending topline for a reconciliation package they said would be fully paid for. But senators have received scant details besides an outline of expected categories of spending and offsets, making some hesitant to commit their support. 

Many Senate Democrats had no idea Schumer wanted them to bless that budget agreement by Wednesday. And the Wednesday deadline came and went without any pronouncement of a full caucus agreement. 

“I haven’t even heard that,” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said. “It depends on how we pay for it. That’s where I am.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said he’s not ready to commit to supporting the budget resolution — nor has Schumer asked him to — as he’s been solely focused on the bipartisan infrastructure bill negotiations. 

“As soon as we get this done, I’ll start working on that,” he said. 

Budget Committee member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Wednesday morning that Democrats “were close” to having the entire caucus’s support for the budget agreement even as the panel continued to flesh out the $3.5 trillion agreement into specific reconciliation instructions for various committees of jurisdiction.

“I think we’re still working that out,” he said. “I think the bigger question for the caucus is just the overall framework.”

In another sign of how soft Schumer’s deadline was, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he’s not yet counting Democratic votes for the budget resolution. 

Sanders deferred to Schumer to clarify what he hoped to achieve in terms of caucus support by Wednesday as he reiterated his belief that when it comes time for the Senate to consider the budget resolution, the full caucus will be behind it. 

“You got 50 members. Everybody has their sense of priorities,” he said. “We’re meeting and talking to everybody. But I believe that at the end of the day every member of the Democratic Caucus understands that we have got to address the long neglected needs of working families and that we need to bring forward this very, very comprehensive piece of legislation.”

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