Democrats Prepare to Go It Alone

Good morning. The workings of Congress are usually painfully slow. So it was somewhat refreshing this week to see lawmakers pass a widely supported bipartisan bill on short notice to recognize Juneteenth as a new federal holiday. Most lawmakers and staff assumed observing the holiday would go into effect next year considering how close passage of the bill was to the 19th, but the Office of Personnel and Management announced yesterday that most federal employees will observe it for the first time today. The Capitol complex will be relatively quiet today, with many offices and dining establishments closed.

Democrats Eyeing $6 Trillion Reconciliation Package

Congressional Democrats are laying the groundwork to advance a massive bill on a partisan basis in the coming months, which could include President Joe Biden’s priorities for child care, education, and climate change. Democratic leaders are discussing a vehicle to pass roughly $6 trillion in spending through the budget reconciliation process, which sidesteps the typical 60-vote requirement for passing legislation in the Senate. Democrats won’t need to win any Republican support to advance their bill—as long as they are completely unified on the details. 

The parameters for the package are being prepared by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders. The discussion comes as progressive Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with a lack of action on their legislative goals amid ongoing talks for a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The future of the reconciliation vehicle—what it includes and when it might take center stage—depends largely on whether the bipartisan infrastructure talks advance or fall apart. They’re not mutually exclusive, though. Democratic leaders have said that even if Congress passes a bill with GOP support that is more narrowly focused on traditional infrastructure, they would also move ahead with the more liberal items in Biden’s $4 trillion plan for sweeping social and infrastructure investments on a partisan basis. 

But the vehicle Democrats are contemplating would give about $2 trillion in additional room for priorities beyond Biden’s plan. Sanders, along with many other congressional Democrats, has called for the bill to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 60 years old from 65 and to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing. Some, like Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, are also discussing the possibility of including immigration measures—such as a pathway to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers—in such a reconciliation package. (You can read Harvest’s story from this week about the state of play on immigration reform here.)

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