IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Senate Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget plan goes big — finally

It's about time Democrats ball out and move on liberal and progressive priorities.

When I saw the news that Senate Democrats had reached an agreement to invest $3.5 trillion in American families and fighting climate change, let's just say I was ebullient about it on Twitter.

To be clear up front, there's no room for error over the next few weeks in transforming the deal Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Tuesday night into a law that reaches President Joe Biden's desk. There are no votes for Democrats to lose in the Senate, and just four defections in the House would doom this whole endeavor.

But if they pull this off, it would be one of the biggest expansions of the social safety net in decades and a veritable smorgasbord of other progressive priorities.

We were still waiting on officially released details Wednesday evening, but here's some of what's expected to be in the package:

This is the exact sort of balling out that liberals and progressives have been waiting for from Democrats. As a bonus, Schumer claims that the provisions would all be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy and businesses while making sure no one making under $400,000 a year would see their taxes go up.

All of this will be included in a budget reconciliation bill, a method that's filibuster-proof, requiring only 50 votes (plus Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker) to pass. When or if that happens, it will deliver on the promises Democrats made when they were trying to capture total control of Washington in last year's elections.

That we even got to this point feels like a minor miracle. (I've gotten very used to feeling let down by the Senate, especially when it comes to overcoming Republican obstruction.) I argued in January that Biden's inauguration started a clock of ­ — at most — two years for Democrats to accomplish anything before they could lose their slim majorities. The narrow time frame and the low overhead for error were concerning, even after passage of the Covid-19 stimulus package.

The choice to engage in months of bipartisan negotiations with Republicans had me low-key convinced that Democrats were turning their only remaining bite at the apple, fiscally speaking, into more of a nibble. Tuesday's announcement disabused me of that notion. The two-track strategy he was pursuing — allowing bipartisan talks to reach a deal on physical infrastructure and letting negotiations on this bigger package continue — was a gamble that seems to have paid off.

Coupled with a bipartisan package of nearly $1 trillion in physical infrastructure, the two bills would just about cover the roughly $4 trillion in spending that Biden laid out in his twin infrastructure plans this year.

While it's not the $6 trillion attempt to turn the metaphorical apple into an amuse-bouche that Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had floated, the topline deal announced Tuesday was definitely better than expected. And Sanders seemed ready to rally any skeptical progressives to the cause, saying Tuesday: "This is a big deal. And I'm just very proud of the entire committee and good work that they have done."

Over in the House, both leaders and progressives were optimistic. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to her members: "House Committees stand ready to work with the Senate, as this topline agreement is turned into legislative text. Doing so is a critical step to passing infrastructure and reconciliation packages that are truly worthy of the American people."

Senate Republican leaders, as you can imagine, were less thrilled. But no matter how much they try to bluff moderate Democrats into spiking the bipartisan bill, thus killing the reconciliation bill, too, that works only if moderates fall for it. The fact is that if 10 Republicans won't support the bipartisan deal anymore, those bits will just be folded into the larger reconciliation passage and pass anyway.

No, the fate of the package isn't beholden to the GOP — it's only the Democrats who can trip themselves up, which is scary in its own way. Because the details of exactly how the $3.5 trillion would be spent will still have to be hammered out in the weeks ahead. That having been said, there are some very encouraging early signs. Biden's visit to the Senate to rally the troops was well-received. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told The Hill on Wednesday that he's fine with the price tag; he just wants to see how it gets spent. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says he's onboard with trying to get immigration reform into the spending package.

All told, it's going to be a wild few weeks as the party's leaders try to white-knuckle their way to the finish line. But when the Senate recesses again at the start of August, there's a chance it will be a well-earned vacation for once.