WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders announced an agreement Tuesday evening to advance a $3.5 trillion spending plan to finance a major expansion of the economic safety net.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the $3.5 trillion would be in addition to the $579 billion in new spending in the bipartisan infrastructure agreement.
He said the deal would include a "robust expansion of Medicare" that would include new benefits like dental, vision and hearing coverage, along with major funding for clean energy. "If we pass this, this is the most profound change to help American families in generations," he said.
"Joe Biden is coming to our lunch tomorrow to lead us on to getting this wonderful plan that affects American families in a so profound way, more than anything that's happened to generations," Schumer told reporters. "We are very proud of this plan. We know we have a long road to go. We're going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans' lives a whole lot better."
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of the Budget and Finance committees, said the plan would be "fully paid for."
The agreement would prohibit tax increases on small businesses and people making under $400,000, a Democratic aide familiar with the deal said.
The announcement points to a challenge for Democrats, who will have to agree on a massive bill that is financed with new tax revenue to pass it through razor-thin congressional majorities, with no realistic hope of winning Republican support.
Democrats have no margin for error in the 50-50 Senate, and they can lose just four votes in the House before the legislation would be in danger of failing.
"This is, in our view, a pivotal moment in American history," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the Budget Committee chairman, told reporters.
"What this legislation says among many, many other things is that those days are gone. The wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fair share of taxes, so that we can protect the working families in this country," he said.
The agreement, a significant decrease from Sanders' $6 trillion proposal, is an attempt to achieve consensus in an ideologically diverse Democratic Party with a host of competing interests. The legislation has yet to be written.
Senate Democratic leaders hope to advance both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the party-line budget reconciliation bill this month, before Congress leaves for the August recess.
As Senate Democrats were literally down the hall agreeing on their plan, a separate bipartisan group of 22 senators were meeting in another room working to hash out the last remaining issues on their own $579 billion plan.
"There's a goal to have all the member-level decisions made by the time we end the session on Thursday," Sen Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said after the meeting.
That group hopes to get investment and funding questions resolved by the end of the week so that the bill text can be finalized, and the Congressional Budget Office can do its cost analysis.