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Senate Democrats Roll Child Care And Immigration Into A $3.5T Budget Framework

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., unveiled the text of a $3.5 trillion budget framework.
J. Scott Applewhite
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., unveiled the text of a $3.5 trillion budget framework.

Updated August 9, 2021 at 9:28 AM ET

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has released the text of a $3.5 trillion budget framework that is meant to give Democrats the opportunity to approve major federal investments in child care, family leave and climate change provisions without support of congressional Republicans.

In a letter sent Monday morning, Schumer told Democrats that the goal is for committees to write legislation to fulfill the spending targets by Sept. 15.

"When we took the majority in the Senate earlier this year, the American people entrusted us with a great responsibility: to make their lives better," Schumer wrote in the letter. "I am happy to report that we are making great progress towards that goal."

What's in the plan

The budget framework includes instructions to committees that include specific spending targets. Major elements include:

  • $726 billion for the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee with expansive instructions to address some of Democrats' top priorities. Those areas include universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, child care for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically black colleges and universities and an expansion of the Pell Grant for higher education.
  • $107 billion for the Judiciary Committee, including instructions to address "lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants."
  • $135 billion for the Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry, including instructions to address forest fires, reduce carbon emissions and address drought concerns.
  • $332 billion for the Banking Committee, including instructions to invest in public housing, the Housing Trust Fund, housing affordability and equity and community land trusts.
  • $198 billion for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including instructions largely related to clean energy development.
  • Democrats go it alone

    Democrats plan to use special budget rules to pass new spending without the threat of a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Republicans have broadly rejected plans for additional spending and have said Democrats are threatening chances of bipartisan support for other critical economic issues, such as increasing or suspending the debt limit.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised last week that Republicans would offer no help on the debt limit if Democrats pursue more spending.

    "If our colleagues want to ram through yet another reckless tax and spending spree without our input, if they want all this spending and debt to be their signature legacy, they should leap at the chance to own every bit of it," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. "So let me make something perfectly clear: If they don't need or want our input, they won't get our help with the debt limit increase that these reckless plans will require."

    The decision to proceed with budget reconciliation creates a perilous path for top Democrats leading exceedingly thin majorities in both the House and the Senate at a moment of intense fiscal pressure in the country.

    Also, the borrowing limit must be increased by Oct. 1

    The federal government already reached the borrowing limit and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the limit must be increased by Oct. 1 to avoid default. That coincides with the fiscal year end on Sept. 30 — one day earlier.

    Democrats did not include a debt limit increase in the budget framework, meaning they will have to find some other way to address the issue.

    Leaders also face a difficult path for approving additional spending through the budget process.

    Passing any legislation under the budget rule known as reconciliation would require unanimous agreement among Democrats. That is far from guaranteed.

    Moderate Democrats, such as Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have questioned the need for trillions in new spending but have avoided committing to a spending target they can support.

    Progressive Democrats have insisted that the Senate pass a partisan spending package before the House will consider the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that is set to be approved in the Senate this week.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said for weeks that the House will not vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate has finished work on the additional spending.

    Schumer said Monday that he has been working with Pelosi on this plan.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.