Mar 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House weighs budget reconciliation for $3T in spending

President Biden is seen removing his sunglasses as he returns from Camp David.

Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is considering using budget reconciliation two more times this year to pass up to $3 trillion in spending aimed at core priorities, including infrastructure, climate change, education, taxes and health care, according to Democratic and Republican budget experts.

Why it matters: The tactic would allow some legislation to pass the Senate without eliminating the filibuster and require only a simple majority vote in both chambers.

  • It also would antagonize Senate Republicans, who have been eager to question President Biden's interest in bipartisanship.

The big picture: The president’s economic advisers are preparing a $3 trillion spending proposal for him, with $1 trillion for infrastructure and hundreds of billions more for climate change, caregivers, community colleges and pre-kindergarten education, the New York Times reported Monday.

  • Under the reconciliation process, Democrats need only two things to get legislation passed through the Senate: 50 votes and a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian that the proposed legislation is eligible under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
  • But getting three separate reconciliation packages approved by the parliamentarian and signed into law in one year would be unprecedented.
  • The White House declined to comment.

Flashback: Former President Trump attempted two during his first year in office but only one — tax reform — passed the Senate, with the late Sen. John McCain killing his attempt to repeal Obamacare via reconciliation.

  • “The Democratic majority could take two more bites at the reconciliation apple this year,” said Eric Ueland, a longtime Senate staffer who ran legislative affairs for Trump.
  • “While clearing out the procedural underbrush will take some work, if they go this way, President Biden might make history signing three reconciliation bills in just one year.”
  • Sarah Bianchi, a longtime Biden economic adviser, said: “The White House has the ability to do two more reconciliation packages this year if they want to — a spending one and a tax one."

Between the lines: The White House has not made any final decisions on its legislative strategy and is publicly saying it's committed to finding Republican votes for an infrastructure deal to spend billions on bridges, broadband and battery-charging stations — and then finding some new sources of revenue.

  • But if bipartisanship fails, Democrats could then use one of two remaining reconciliation vehicles for infrastructure and also pursue bigger tax increases, including raising rates for corporations and wealthy Americans.
  • The final reconciliation package could be saved for even bolder — and more expensive — progressive priorities, including a public option for health care and new spending commitments on caregivers, community colleges and universal pre-k education.
  • “Care is infrastructure, and paid leave undergirds it," said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All. "Roads and bridges enable us to work, make us more productive and competitive. The same is true of caregiving.”

The intrigue: Relying on reconciliation for some of Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda could release some progressive pressure to abolish the filibuster in the Senate.

  • That said, it won’t let off all the steam, especially with House Democrats demanding the Senate pass H.R. 1 to expand and protect voting rights.
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