Democrats may bypass Republicans to muscle through trillion-dollar infrastructure bill
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Less than two weeks after passing a sweeping coronavirus relief package without any GOP support, Democratic lawmakers are again eyeing ways to bypass Republican votes on legislation for infrastructure, drug pricing and climate policy.
Politico reported on Monday that top Democrats increasingly believe that Republicans are determined to block President Biden's agenda. While they're still publicly courting a bipartisan deal, some Democrats have conceded that they will have to use an arcane procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass major bills with their slimmest-possible Senate majority.
The complicated Senate process — used to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — allows Democrats to circumvent the 60-vote filibuster and advance the measure using their 50 seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie. Without reconciliation, which can be used on certain tax, spending and debt limit bills, Democrats would need to secure the support of at least 10 Republicans.
There are limits on what legislation qualifies for reconciliation and how frequently the process can be used — and critics have pointed out that Biden campaigned on uniting the country and ending partisan bickering. Democrats can only use the mechanism one more time before the midterm elections in 2022
The Biden administration is laying the groundwork for another massive economic relief package, with senior Democratic officials proposing as much as $3 trillion in new spending on a jobs and infrastructure bill that would become the foundation of Biden's "Build Back Better" program. Politico reported that Democrats are eager to fit what they can in the package, including new measures on drug pricing and climate policy.
"It's gonna be a kitchen sink," House Budget Chair John Yarmuth told the outlet. "Virtually everyone's going to want to get their priorities done through reconciliation. We'll see what we accommodate."
The next big-ticket economic bill could also serve as a vehicle for a bevy of taxes hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations, a proposal that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already rejected.
"I don't think there's going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase," he said last week during the Senate Republican press conference.
The planned changes include: raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, raising the income tax rate on individuals earning more than $400,000, expanding the estate tax, creating a higher capital-gains tax rate for individuals earning at least $1 million annually and paring back tax preferences for so-called pass-through businesses.
Biden acknowledged that he's unlikely to secure any Republican support for any type of tax increases, but said he would receive Democratic votes, setting the stage for the party to once again use budget reconciliation. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., was caught on a hot mic last week telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that Democrats will likely have to use reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bill.
But there are other complications; Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, pledged to block Biden's infrastructure bill if the planned multitrillion-dollar measure does not garner support from any Republicans.
"I'm not going to do it through reconciliation," Manchin, D-W.Va., said during a recent interview with Axios. "I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start."
Manchin, who has become one of the most powerful members of the 50-50 Senate, said he believed that it would be possible to get 10 Republicans to support an infrastructure bill and reach the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster: "I sure do."