Biden’s “Human” Infrastructure Plan Could Transform America. Will it Pass?

A $3.5 trillion "human" infrastructure proposal would fund child care, paid leave, Medicare and Medicaid, and more.

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President Biden, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee struck a deal in the late evening of July 13 on a $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan after months of negotiations with Republicans. The new package is intended to be passed with zero Republican support, using the budget reconciliation process that was utilized to pass the American Rescue Plan. If passed into law, the budget would fund a host of Democratic priorities. How big of an “if” that remains to be seen.

The president will travel to the Capitol on Wednesday, July 14 for a lunch with Senate Democrats to sell them on the plan, which is still coming into focus but would be a transformational piece of legislation were it to pass.

Here’s what families need to know about how the package could improve the lives of American kids, and working parents, and why its chance of passage is anything but certain.

All of the infrastructure priorities that fall outside the traditional definition of the term “infrastructure” are in this deal, which Democrats are trying to pass via the budget reconciliation process because it requires a simple majority instead of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster. A more traditional infrastructure package is still being negotiated with the GOP.

What’s in the package?

More details continue to be released about the package over time, so come back here for more updates on what is, and isn’t, in the package.

But so far, it looks like a great, robust document that will help families.

The package includes a Medicare expansion that would cover vision, dental, and hearing care. Also of health care note, the package includes funding to cover 2 million people that live in red states where the local government refused to expand Medicaid as a part of the Obamacare provision.

Also in the mix are many of the measures from Biden’s American Families Plan: free community college and pre-K, an extension of the enhanced child tax credit, a national paid family leave policy, and more money for home care, childcare, and eldercare.

The budget resolution will also include money for the Civilian Climate Corps, a jobs program that would create millions of jobs akin to the Great Depression’s WPA that helped build roads, dams, and more. The CCC would invest in climate resiliency, an increasing need as climate change becomes our new reality.

There’s also a provision that mandates no tax increases for households making less than $400,000 a year. According to the Washington Post, the plan will be paid for largely with progressive tax increases.

Details have yet to be finalized, but that likely means raising the top marginal and corporate tax rates, changing the international tax system (presumably to make it harder for the rich to avoid domestic taxation at higher rates), and increasing funding for the IRS to enforce tax laws and collect as much as $1 trillion in uncollected taxes.

What was left out of the package?

Democrats are pursuing a two-pronged approach to infrastructure that reflects their new, expanded definition of the term that Republicans unsurprisingly have scoffed at.

A bipartisan deal has been negotiated among a bipartisan group of Senate moderates that would fund more traditional infrastructure priorities—roads, bridges, water, and sewer systems—along with the broadband internet access that is understandably popular with the disproportionately rural base of the Republican Senate caucus.

Will it pass?

Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a $6 trillion budget. Landing at $3.5 trillion might be a disappointment, but he’s not saying so publicly.

“This is, in our view, a very pivotal moment in American history,” Sanders said. “The wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fair share of taxes so that we can protect the working families of this country.”

“There are times for really big things, this is one of those times,” moderate Democrat Senator Mark Warner agreed. “The plan we’ve put together, which is fully paid for, will make the investments in American families, will take on the existential threat of climate change in a way that will meet the needs, leading the world on this critical issue.”

But the reality of the Senate in 2021 is that Democrats have no margin for error, which means in practice that the votes of the conservative flank—led by and often consisting solely of Senator Joe Manchin—are needed to pass anything given the zero GOP votes that can be expected on any significant Democrat-led legislation.

Unfortunately for Biden and Schumer, Manchin has been noncommital even given Warner’s assurances that the bill is paid for without adding to the deficit.

As Manchin alluded, the next step is fleshing out the package—both the policy specifics and how to pay for them—and getting the input of the Congressional Budget Office and the Senate Parliamentarian, whose recommendations have no legal authority but have been deferred to in the past by Schumer and company, to the frustration of many who feel Democrats aren’t doing everything they can for their constituents.

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say that they aim to pass the package via reconciliation before the August Congressional recess. Whether or not that comes to pass largely depends on how Manchin reacts in the coming weeks—and whether the rest of his party can convince him that improving the lives of Americans immediately and dramatically is more important than the austerity he often seems to prioritize.

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