US Congress begins drafting historic $3.5 trillion spending package

Published September 10, 2021, 9:34 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

Washington, United States — US lawmakers launched discussions Thursday on a $3.5 trillion spending package crucial to President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda, as several days of debate on its major sections got underway.

Five key House committees began “marking up” their respective portions of the bill, with the most fraught issue remaining how to pay for the giant raft of measures.

In this file photo, the US Capitol building is seen in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2021. (Daniel SLIM / AFP)

Democrats want to push the package through over the coming weeks using a fast-track process known as reconciliation that allows budget-related legislation to advance through the Senate by simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes.

It would include funding for climate measures, new investments in infrastructure, residency status for millions of migrant workers and two years of paid tuition at public universities.

As debate got underway on the House side, ways and means committee chairman Richard Neal called the package a “once in a generation opportunity to make transformative beneficial change.”

Kevin Brady, the panel’s top Republican, accused the Democrats of ramming through trillions of dollars in “wasteful spending and crippling tax hikes” that would spark inflation, kill jobs and “usher in a new era of government dependency.”

With Republicans against the massive plan, a no vote from a single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate would effectively kill what they have touted as the most consequential social spending proposal since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.

Centrist senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have both sounded the alarm on what they see as overspending, with Manchin reportedly wanting the total to drop to as low as $1 trillion.

‘Full speed ahead’

That would mean discarding a raft of priorities from the shopping list, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Wednesday: “We’re moving full speed ahead.”

“We want to keep going forward. We think getting this done is so important for the American people,” he said.

The House ways and means committee is considering proposals for universal paid family and medical leave and expanding public health coverage, while the education and labor committee is looking at improving child care and fixing aging schools.

Party leaders have imposed a soft deadline of September 15 for unveiling draft text and Manchin’s opposition will put pressure on Senate Democrats to find areas where the bottom line can be trimmed.

In a sign of growing frustration among party leadership over the objections, Senate budget committee chairman Bernie Sanders told reporters the $3.5 trillion figure was “already the result of a major, major compromise.”

“Where would you cut? Child care? Family medical leave paid for? Universal pre-K? Home health care, so important?” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked in a separate news conference.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told CNN Wednesday evening however that there was still “a lot of room” for compromise.

“You may not need $3.5 trillion to do what the president wants done and what the country needs done,” he said.