4 reasons the Democratic push for a huge infrastructure package will be tougher than the stimulus scramble

Pelosi Biden Harris
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the White House to discuss the stimulus package.

  • The path ahead for Democrats on infrastructure looks different from the one that produced a $1.9 trillion stimulus.
  • Democrats want to pay for some of it, and they’re not rushing to meet a deadline.
  • It’s also more complex than a package to stimulate the economy, and compromises over it could take months.
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Congress is returning from a two-week Easter recess and now it’s set to tackle other parts of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. Likely the biggest piece of it will be an infrastructure package – A $2.3 trillion part of which has been unveiled, and a second part which will be rolled out in several weeks.

Yet the path ahead for Democrats looks very different from the one that produced a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, which Biden signed into law in March. They are aiming to implement a sweeping public-works to demonstrate that their control of Washington produces tangible benefits for ordinary people.

For now, they are still attempting to draw Republican support, but that already looks a vain hope. The day Biden unveiled his plan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted it as a “Trojan Horse” for liberal priorities that go beyond traditional roads and bridges definition of infrastructure.

It only gets more complicated for Democrats from there.

Here are four reasons Democratic push for a huge infrastructure package will be tougher than their scramble to pass stimulus.

(1) Democrats want to pay for at least some of it

The entire $1.9 trillion rescue plan was deficit-financed, meaning it was not paid for and grew the debt. Many economists had been urging lawmakers to finance a package this way if it meant getting the pandemic under control and accelerating the distribution of vaccines.

However, Congress has now approved $6 trillion in emergency spending since the pandemic broke out last year, per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Many Democrats want Biden’s jobs package to be offset with tax hikes on wealthy Americans and large companies.

“At some point we’ve got to start paying for things,” Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, told Politico last month.

Biden has proposed offsetting the cost of his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, just the first of his two-part package, by increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%. That has met with resistance from both Republicans and many business leaders.

(2) There is no hard deadline

Earlier this year, Democrats rushed to approve an pandemic aid package plan by March 14, the date when federal unemployment benefits were set to expire for millions of laid-off workers.

Now, there is no similar deadline hovering over the delicate infrastructure negotiations, which many in Congress expect to stretch for months. A possible date for action could be September, when lawmakers must act to fund the government and keep it open beyond the end of that month.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested she wants the House to approve an infrastructure plan by July 4. Then it would head to the evenly divided Senate, where its odds of clearing the chamber rest on centrist lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

(3) It’s aimed at creating jobs and growing the economy

Another key difference is the nature of the plan. The coronavirus relief package was geared to provide immediate relief to cash-strapped families and laid-off workers.

Biden’s infrastructure plan forms a pillar of his Build Back Better agenda, designed to be a series of long-term initiatives. Much of it is aimed at overhauling the economy and leveling the playing field between the wealthy and average Americans, and incorporate racial justice.

It includes provisions to create jobs through repairing roads and bridges, clean energy incentives, and substantially expanding broadband access. A follow-up plan will also include education and childcare spending.

(4) Big parts of the plan could get scrapped in the Senate

Democrats are starting to eye budget reconciliation as their likeliest course, given staunch GOP opposition to the plan’s scope and price tag. It’s a legislative tactic to pass certain bills with a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate instead of 60.

But it has strict rules overseen by the Senate parliamentarian who mandates measures be closely related to the federal budget.

That means some parts of the plan like a paid family leave program many Democrats support could get ruled out by the parliamentarian.

Goldman Sachs projected that $700 billion could be cut from Biden’s overall proposal reported to be worth $4 trillion, leading to a final, single package worth $3.5 trillion that passes sometime between July and September.

Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday, kicking off the infrastructure negotiations. He insisted after the meeting that it wasn’t just “window-dressing” and that he is willing to negotiate on aspects of the package.

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