Both the House and Senate are getting back to work on Monday, and Democrats and Republicans probably can at least agree that big issues are under consideration.
The House is returning to Washington, D.C., after a two-week break, while the Senate already was in session last week, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announcing in a floor speech last Thursday that he expects this Wednesday to be a key day.
The New York Democrat said he wants a procedural vote on Wednesday on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure
plan, as well as agreement on that day among Democratic senators on the details of their $3.5 trillion budget package.
“It’s important to keep the two-track process moving,” Schumer said. “The time has come to make progress and we will. We must.”
Following a two-track process would mean that first the bipartisan infrastructure proposal would draw the 60 Senate votes that are needed to bypass the filibuster. Then, Democrats would go it alone without Republicans to pass their $3.5 trillion package by a simple majority vote through a process known as budget reconciliation. The Senate is split 50-50, with Democrats in control only because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreaking votes.
The bipartisan plan, touted in late June by President Joe Biden, calls for outlays such as $312 billion for transportation, $55 billion for water infrastructure and $65 billion for broadband. This past week, the bipartisan group of senators behind that plan struggled with finalizing it, as Republicans expressed concerns about one proposed source of funding for its outlays — an expansion of the Internal Revenue Service. Lawmakers have now dropped plans to pay for the infrastructure package in part by boosting tax-collecting enforcement at the IRS, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The $3.5 trillion package, meanwhile, would deliver massive spending on efforts related to climate change, “human infrastructure” and other Democratic priorities. Top Senate Democrats agreed last Tuesday on the $3.5 trillion figure, while some moderate Democratic senators took a neutral stance and said they needed to see the plan’s details.
Congress also faces calls to raise or suspend the federal borrowing limit by July 31, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen having urged lawmakers to take action on the debt ceiling before their August recess. She has said “extraordinary measures” that her department uses to stay under the debt limit may not last long.
Some analysts aren’t that optimistic about seeing action this month on the bipartisan infrastructure plan, the bigger Democratic package and the debt ceiling.
While Yellen wants the debt limit raised before the recess, “like her predecessors, she will have to get creative to keep the government running,” said Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, in a note. He sees just a 30% chance that the ceiling will be raised before the August recess, and a 100% chance that it’ll be boosted by October.
On the bipartisan infrastructure plan, Valliere is more upbeat, saying chances are “slightly higher than 50% that a basic infrastructure bill will pass before the August recess.” For the $3.5 trillion budget plan, he sees a 40% chance of action before next month’s break, and a 60% chance of getting it done this fall.
Schumer expects to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution before the August recess, but he has a track record of setting aggressive schedules but then falling short and setting new deadlines, said Benjamin Salisbury, director of research at Height Capital Markets, in a note.
“Even if the Senate fails to pass one or both of the pieces, we would not anticipate significantly altering our odds of success because we continue to see final passage as a late 2021 event,” Salisbury added.
“We estimate a roughly 35%-45% probability of passing a joint bipartisan and slimmed down reconciliation bill,” the Height analyst said. “A lesser probability (20%-30%) is that either the infrastructure bill or reconciliation bill pass on their own. Lastly there is a lingering (25%-45%) chance that the entire effort will collapse under its own weight.”
The bipartisan infrastructure plan looks “now definitively dead,” said James Lucier, managing director at Capital Alpha, in a note.
“To demonstrate its deadness, Schumer will bring it up for a Senate vote on a motion to proceed that will fail due to lack of Republican support,” Lucier wrote. “That failure will underscore his justification for proceeding on the budget reconciliation route.”