The Slatest

Senate Democrats Approve Sweeping $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan to Expand Social Safety Net

Ted Cruz and another man walk down the steps of the Capitol.
Sen. Ted Cruz and special assistant Gray Harker depart the U.S. Capitol at dawn Wednesday after an overnight session of the Senate. Win McNamee/Getty Images

After a long night of votes, Democrats in the Senate approved a sweeping $3.5 trillion budget blueprint minutes before 4 a.m., delivering a key victory for President Joe Biden. The approval came mere hours after the Senate had already given Biden an important win by advancing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in a rare 69–30 bipartisan vote. In contrast, the vote on the budget plan was strictly along partisan lines and was approved on a 50–49 vote with one lawmaker, Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota absent.

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The budget blueprint could be the cornerstone of what very well might become the largest expansion of the social safety net in more than half a century. The measure sets up a framework that could translate into more money for health care, education, and fighting climate change that would largely be paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations. “The Democratic budget will bring a generational transformation for how our economy works for average Americans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. Getting there won’t be easy as Democrats will have to make sure the different wings of the party stick together.

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The vote came after a lengthy series of amendment votes known as “vote-a-rama,” in which both parties could offer an unlimited number of amendments. The whole thing dragged on for 14 hours as Republicans, powerless to stop the Democrats, at least used it as an opportunity to criticize the massive budget blueprint as a waste of money that would harm Americans. “People want to pretend this is just business as usual—just liberals doing liberal things using Senate procedure,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Make no mistake. This reckless taxing and spending spree is like nothing we’ve seen.” Republican lawmakers have made clear they will try to make their voices heard in other ways as dozens of GOP lawmakers vowed not to raise the debt ceiling as a way to try to zap spending plans.

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The measure now heads to the House of Representatives, where leaders have already said lawmakers will return from their summer recess early to consider it. Whether it passes quickly will largely depend on whether Democrats can stay united. Progressives have said they won’t vote on the infrastructure bill, which they deem insufficient, until the House approves the budget blueprint. Moderates, meanwhile, have already started to grumble about the size of the legislation. If approved, though, it would give Democrats the ability to use a process known as budget reconciliation to approve legislation on a party-line vote without having to worry about a Republican filibuster.

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