As infrastructure talks drag on, Democrats strive to keep government funding on track

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Progressives, tired of the slow pace of bipartisan infrastructure talks, are ready to go it alone now. But Yarmuth’s plan is a signal that despite growing Democrats’ impatience, the party still relies on the White House to know when to proceed with reconciliation – the powerful budget tool already used by Democrats to do so. Pass Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief package according to party lines earlier this year. year.

“I think we are still waiting for the White House to call to know when or not they are giving up on a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Yarmuth said.

The separate budget resolution he is preparing will include defense and non-defense funding for the coming fiscal year and a plan to use reconciliation to meet the president’s employment and infrastructure priorities without the support. of the GOP. The timeline is not clear and the development of this legislation will take several weeks, Yarmuth said.

“Every day that goes by without a call for reconciliation delays it a bit,” he said. “Theoretically, we could do [a budget resolution] at the end of the month, but I hesitate to put a goal there. It will be done before the August holidays, that’s for sure.

Biden has been talking for weeks with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.), one of the GOP’s top negotiators on infrastructure. But talks officially broke down on Tuesday afternoon with the two sides still separated by around $ 700 billion. Biden is now turning to negotiations with a bipartisan group of 20 senators, but the administration has already signaled that it will end bipartisan talks in the absence of significant progress in the coming days.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also indicated on Tuesday afternoon that the party is increasingly determined to lead reconciliation in the weeks to come.

“We all know that as a caucus we will not be able to do everything the country needs in a bipartisan way,” he said. “So at the same time, we are pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation. “

Yarmuth – who has said he’s meeting with Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) For dinner this week to compare budget resolution notes – expects Democrats to use the same reconciliation if there is a bipartite agreement. There is a need to embrace whatever priorities Republicans will never accept, Yarmuth said, such as the care and climate change proposals included in Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and his proposal for 1.8 trillion dollar families.

The Kentucky Democrat is uncertain whether his party will use reconciliation to settle the debt ceiling or pass elements of immigration reform.

“I don’t see any scenario where there isn’t a reconciliation process,” Yarmuth said. “Because Republicans won’t agree with a lot of what’s in the jobs plan and the family plan. “

Democratic priorities are piling up with the August Congressional recess on the horizon. Congressional leaders struck a deal in 2019 that suspended the debt ceiling until July 31. While the Treasury Department can then take so-called extraordinary measures to continue paying government bills on time while lawmakers craft another deal, Treasury officials have warned that those measures could run out sooner than expected in due to the uncertainty associated with the pandemic regarding spending and income.

Government funding expires at the end of September, and federal enhanced unemployment benefits also end that month. However, any deal to fund the government cannot fit into a reconciliation bill – spending bills require the support of at least 10 Senate Republicans.

While reconciliation remains a big question mark, Yarmuth said he did not expect a messy battle between Democrats over defense and non-defense spending levels that would also be included in an upcoming budget resolution. In 2019, Yarmuth was forced to “judge” the numbers amid a gradual revolt against military funding. The margins are much smaller now – Democrats can only afford to lose four votes on June 21.

The main government funding figures this time around will likely be similar to those outlined in Biden’s budget proposal for FY2022, Yarmuth said. The administration’s request calls for a total of $ 769 billion for non-defense programs in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Biden also requested $ 753 billion for national defense programs, including cash for overseas activities. This equates to a 16% increase over current funding levels for national programs, while providing an increase of less than 2% for the military.

But this small increase is still too much to bear for some progressives. Sanders, for example, called for a 10% cut in Pentagon spending. But with massive investments in infrastructure and the middle class at stake, there is more at stake for Democrats who are generally eager to fight for defense funding.

Yarmuth said Democratic leaders assumed that a budget resolution allowing Democrats to pass significant increases to national agendas across party lines would garner enough party support to pass in the House, despite the defense financing.

“But not without pain,” Yarmuth said. “It will be hard for a lot of members to swallow.”

Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.

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