As a bipartisan group of senators returned to the White House on Thursday to finalize an infrastructure deal, its path forward in Congress increasingly hinges on internal Democratic negotiations over a separate, sweeping proposal designed to support working women as they emerge from the first recession that has disproportionately impacted them.
President Joe Biden, in his first address to a joint session of Congress in April, outlined what he hoped would be a historic $1.8 trillion investment in policies such as paid family and medical leave, universal pre-kindergarten and two free years of community college.
It was unclear at the time whether Biden’s American Families Plan would move forward on its own, given near-total Republican opposition, or whether it would be paired with Biden’s infrastructure-focused $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan.
Democrats subsequently decided to pursue a narrower, bipartisan infrastructure package on its own, then turn to a process known as reconciliation, which allows them to avoid overcoming a typically required 60-vote threshold in the evenly divided 100-seat Senate, to pass a version of Biden’s families proposal with only Democratic votes.
When the bipartisan group of senators engaged in infrastructure negotiations returned to the White House on Thursday, they announced they had agreed to invest $1.2 trillion over eight years, including more than $500 billion in new spending. Biden said “none of us got what we all would’ve wanted” and there were “serious compromises on both ends.” Democrats will negotiate child care and other “human infrastructure” using reconciliation as the two proposals move on a “dual track,” Biden said.
But Democratic lawmakers have said that before they can approve the infrastructure deal, they need to see the parameters of the second spending package that will fund paid leave, education and other party priorities. Some would also like assurances from moderate colleagues such as Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona that they will not derail the second spending package.
“One can’t be done without the other,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters as he left a meeting with top White House aides on Wednesday night.
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had met with Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Shalanda Young, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice to discuss both the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations and the American Families Plan.
“They underscored the importance of extending the child tax credit, and investing in the care economy, including expanding child care, to help ensure that women can return to the workforce,” the White House said.
Both the House and Senate are aiming to vote on both bills sometime in July before Congress begins its August recess. Pelosi said when leaving the meeting that the House would vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package “as soon as we see a reconciliation bill.”
On Thursday Pelosi was more blunt, saying the House would not vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package until the Senate has passed both the infrastructure and reconciliation bills.
“There ain’t going to be no bipartisan bill unless we have the reconciliation bill,” she told reporters in her weekly briefing.
Biden said shortly after that he agreed with Pelosi’s approach. “I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill,” he told reporters.
Some senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have likewise indicated they would prefer to vote on, not just see, a reconciliation bill before voting on the infrastructure measure.
The vehicle to set the parameters for what will make it into the American Families Plan will be budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate. The negotiations begin in the budget committees, and a draft proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate panel, is already circulating in Washington.
Budget resolutions are non-binding blueprints that help guide congressional committees in areas like education and energy as they help assemble broad spending bills that are eventually passed and signed into law.
Sanders has proposed spending nearly $6 trillion over a decade — about $1.6 trillion more than Biden’s proposals — on investments that include $200 billion in universal pre-kindergarten, $300 billion on child care, $225 billion on paid leave and $390 billion on education programs, including free community college, according to a draft reviewed by The 19th.
Manchin, one of the Democrats on the bipartisan infrastructure negotiation team, said this week that he supports using reconciliation to make such investments in “human infrastructure.” But he also said recently that two free years of community college may not help students graduate, illustrating the extent to which Democrats will likely need to negotiate over Biden’s families plan before agreeing to its passage.