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Democrats push for broader investments in jobs, families and tackling the climate crisis

Democrats on Wednesday passed a blueprint for a $3.5 trillion bill to expand family, health and environmental programs. It is a massive investment, to be spent on American families and to combat the climate crisis. But it faces a rocky political road. Democrats are pushing a particular budget process to make it happen. Lisa Desjardins joins William Brangham with more.

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  • William Brangham:

    It is a massive investment, $3.5 trillion, to be spent on American families and to combat the climate crisis. But it faces a rocky political road. Democrats are pushing a particular budget process to make it happen.

    Thankfully, Lisa Desjardins is here to help us understand what's next.

    Lisa, so good to see you.

    This is the time for the Democrats to go full force on this. They want to use this process known as reconciliation. My definition in the dictionary is reconciliation conjures people trying to get over their acrimony and work out their differences, maybe not so on Capitol Hill, right?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's how normal people would define that term. No, on Capitol Hill, the term reconciliation is a very specific budget process, you're reconciling figures and dollars together and, when you do that, you can use a loophole in the process that allows you to get past something with just 50 votes and not 60.

    So think of reconciliation in the Senate as sort of fast track and a way around the filibuster. That's why Democrats want to use it. It has to have budgetary effects, though, so the numbers are going to be important and the next month will be critical because Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, has said he wants his Democrats to come up with an outline for this mega bill by September 15th. They're not here until September.

    So, we're going to have Zoom meetings for the next month, committee chairs will be consulting each other, progressives and moderates, all of this will be hashed out while senators are away and it's a very high stakes game to see if make the deadline.

  • William Brangham:

    Now, we know that Senator Joe Manchin and other Republicans have been racing questions about the massive amount of debt and what it might do. Explain the consequences here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. As we heard earlier, Manchin has a real problem with the spending. So does Kyrsten Sinema. And I think a lot of other moderate Democrats.

    But let's talk about where we are in terms of the national debt right now, and what this would mean. So, if you look at the national debt right now, $22.3 trillion — I looked it up, that's the amount today, they calculate it each day — and the infrastructure bill alone if it were to pass, as is right now, would add somewhere between $250 billion and $400 billion, depending on how you calculate it.

    Now, add to that, the reconciliation bill, $1.75 trillion in debt is allowed under the resolution that was passed last night. Now, Democrats say they plan to pay for most of that, but we don't know. The devil's in the details. President Biden and other Democrats say Republicans spent money, they ran up the red ink themselves, too. But this is a long-term question here about what the Democrats want to do program-wise and the debt that they could incur while doing it.

  • William Brangham:

    Separately last night the Democrats also moved S-1, I believe it's the "For the People Act" all about voting rights. Explain what's happening there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is a very significant move. Four a.m. this morning when the Senate was finishing its business before recess, Senator Chuck Schumer brought up S-1, basically teed it up procedurally so that when they come back in September, the first thing the Senate will deal with is this bill which is a massive pill that would deal with voting rights questions, it would limit what states can do — some of these bills that are passing in conservatives states would have problems — and also would deal with federal election laws.

    Now, it's not clear that he can get 60 votes. It's unlikely he can get 60 votes, he tries for 50, then we have a question about the filibuster. The House also is in play. There's a more narrow bill, the John Lewis bill which may also be in play.

    Just to say, September is going to be incredibly important on all of the questions. Voting rights will be right at the beginning.

  • William Brangham:

    As always, Lisa Desjardins, thanks for helping us get through all of this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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