Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York leaves his office Monday with Senate budget committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate approved a sweeping $3.5 trillion spending plan early Wednesday that aims to fund top Democratic priorities, including Medicare expansion, climate change and education.Senators voted 50 to 49, along party lines, to pass the budget framework that covers the bulk of President Joe Biden's economic plan.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the Senate budget committee chairman who's largely responsible for the bill's contents, has called the resolution "the most consequential piece of legislation" for working families since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s.
The budget resolution is wide-reaching, and includes investments for paid family and medical leave, universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, cybersecurity infrastructure improvements, upgrades for Veterans Affairs facilities, a tax cut for Americans making less than $400,000 a year and for Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits while lowering the eligibility ages.
Senate Democrats said the plan will be paid for by increasing taxes on high-income earners, healthcare savings and its impact on spurring long-term economic growth. Families making less than $400,000 a year, small businesses and family farms will not be subject to the higher taxes.
"Today we move this country in a very different direction," Sanders said from the Senate floor. "The American people want a government which represents all of us and not just a few, and this legislation is going to ask the wealthiest people in our country to start paying their fair share of taxes so we can address the needs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor."
Democrats are seeking to pass the spending plan through an expedited budget reconciliation process that would allow them to bypass Republicans and the 60-vote threshold usually required. Democrats have used the process this year to pass legislation, including the American Rescue Plan in March.
House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told lawmakers in a letter Tuesday that the House would return early from its August recess if the Senate passed the budget resolution. The House has been on recess since late last month.
Hoyer said the House would return Aug. 23 and "remain in session until our business ... is concluded."
The Senate approval for the spending plan came just hours after it passed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and sent it to the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had said previously that the chamber wouldn't take up the proposal until it and the spending plan were passed by the Senate.
Nineteen Republicans, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, joined Democrats in passing the infrastructure plan, which aims to upgrade and make repairs to roads, bridges and transit systems nationwide.
The measures in the budget resolution are integral to Biden's agenda, but Republicans have assailed it as wasteful. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., who stalled the process over the weekend, called it a "socialist debt bomb."
"This is the most inflationary idea I've ever seen," added Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from the Senate floor. "You're spending money like drunken sailors."
Graham also said the plan is an irrational way to address climate change that will create a wave of illegal immigration. Democrats, he added, are putting in motion "the demise of America as we know it."
"They're going to change your country. It's going to be more like Venezuela and less like America," he said.
After the spending plan was passed, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said from the Senate floor that lawmakers have been working for months to pass the proposal.
"What we're doing here is not easy," he said. "But I can say with absolute certainty that it will be worth doing.
"The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation to how our economy works for average Americans. It will cut taxes for American families. It will lower costs for everyone. It will create good-paying jobs while tackling climate change, and it will be paid for by making our tax code more progressive and more fair."