Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday announced a sweeping government spending deal to fund some of President Joe Biden's top priorities. But it received a chilly reception from Republicans. Lisa Desjardins breaks down the budget deal, how it affects the infrastructure deal, and the road ahead to its passage.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate have announced a sweeping government spending deal to fund some of President Biden's top priorities, all aimed, they say, at improving the lives of ordinary Americans.
Lisa Desjardins has been following the action on Capitol Hill, which drew the president himself today.
On Capitol Hill, the former senator arrived for an important first as president, Biden's first hill lunch with Senate Democrats. It followed their agreement last night on a historic spending deal.
Pres. Joe Biden:
We're going to get this done.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lauded the Democrats' proposal, a $3.5 trillion budget outline, calling for more spending toward health care, child care, education and climate. It would be paid for with taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.
Sen. Chuck Schumer:
This budget resolution will allow us to pass the most significant legislation to expand support and help American families since the New Deal, since the New Deal. This is generational, transformational change to help American families.
But the budget blueprint got a chilly reception from Republicans.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the chamber's number-three Republican:
Sen. John Barrasso:
There's not a single Republican in the House or the Senate who's going to support this level of taxing and spending and regulations.
Democrats hope to start voting on aspects of their plan in the next few weeks.
And Lisa joins me now.
So, a big important moment on the Hill.
Lisa, tell us, what more do we know about what's in here?
Let's start with this budget agreement.
First of all, it doesn't have a name yet. So that makes it a little harder to talk about. But we know a little bit about what's in it. I'm going to tick off some very big items that are included in the $3.5 trillion idea.
Two years of community college for most Americans that government would find. Universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. Medicare would expand to include dentistry, vision and hearing. And also in this, Judy, Democrats plan to include immigration reform. They have not yet decided how many undocumented immigrants that would include.
And, obviously, that needs to also pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, but they're going to try it. And also in this, very important, climate change proposals. We need to see the details, but that is encompassing a lot of major problems and issues in this country right now.
And, Lisa, we know this is moving alongside a separate big infrastructure bill. It's separate, but the two are connected. Explain how that works.
If our viewers take anything away from this conversation that you and I have, I want them to understand there are two different bills here moving at the same time.
And, politically, they're different, but they're connected. Let me go through those. First of all, to start with that budget agreement, we just talked about that big, historically, perhaps largest spending deal we will ever see in American history.
You look at the size of that, say if it was depicted in a circle, $3.5 trillion, that's the budget agreement. Now, compare that to the infrastructure deal that's also being worked out separately, $1 trillion, smaller, but also relatively large historically.
Now, the budget agreement, that is something that is going to be partisan in nature, vs. the infrastructure deal, which is going to be bipartisan. That needs Republican support to pass the Senate vs., again, the budget agreement, which will likely pass with only Democratic votes through the process called reconciliation.
Basically, Judy, the issue is, they're trying to navigate both of these bills at one time, so that people who think, say, the big Democratic $3 trillion bill is too big, they might like the smaller infrastructure bill.
By having these move at the same time, they're trying to leverage votes on both sides and trying to thread a very tricky needle. They also have to get both of these things through the House. There are 531 members of Congress, Judy, so that's 531 ways this thing could fall apart.
But it's come much farther than most people think. So there is hope for both of these Democratic proposals and bipartisan proposals right now.
A lot of moving parts here, a lot for people to pay close attention to, and a lot of work to be done.
But tell us what happens next.
We are waiting on the infrastructure deal. That is, we're talking roads, bridges, broadband. That bipartisan plan, they're trying to actually write the language for today and tomorrow. The Senate can vote on that as soon as next week. The $3.5 trillion deal, that, probably, we won't see in its full language for many weeks, if not months. But they will start to vote on the procedure to get that going as soon as next week.
What that means, Judy, is this next week critical for both of these items. If they stand a chance of passing this Congress, they have got to get their ducks in a row and start moving in the next week or so.
All right, so that is one thing we wanted to — definitely wanted to speak to you about.
But another topic on the Hill today, the majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, announced that he is pushing for an end to the federal ban on marijuana.
It's significant. This is the first time the leader of either chamber of Congress has come out and publicly supported an end to the federal ban on marijuana use in this country.
He's floating a draft proposal. Now, it is still a very initial first step. It's not even a full bill yet. Schumer himself said he doesn't have the votes right now, even from Democrats, to pass this through Congress. But he thinks there's momentum there.
This is significant, not only because there is a growing marijuana industry in this country, which faces this federal criminalization at the moment. And there's billions of dollars here. Who gets that? But there's also, of course, many thousands of Americans in prison for having possession of small amounts of marijuana.
This bill would then decriminalize and also allow all of those Americans to try and request that their sentences be put aside. That is a very popular issue. And, overall, marijuana legalization is popular in America. About 60 percent of Americans favor it.
What we're seeing here is the plates shifting on this issue. This is symbolic. I don't know if this bill will pass anytime soon. But it means that, down the road, something could.
A powerful figure to now be announcing his position on this.
That's right. That's correct.
And he points out that also this idea of legalization is popular in some conservative states as well.
Lisa Desjardins keeping track of all of it for us.
Thank you, Lisa.
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Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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