On Aug. 11, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) publicly released the full text of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget proposal. A few hours later, the Senate narrowly confirmed the budget 50-49. Now, the budget must win approval from the House of Representatives after they return from their recess.
The outline is expected to be the first step in the Democrats’ ambitious plans for increased Federal spending on “human infrastructure,” including education, health care, and housing initiatives. However, the resolution does not include an increase to the debt ceiling, setting the stage for another political battle when Congress returns.
On Aug. 9, Sanders discussed the components of this ambitious plan on the Senate floor, saying that that the $3.5 trillion budget proposal and reconciliation bill would be “the most consequential and comprehensive piece of legislation for working people… that [the Senate] has addressed since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
Some of the expenses in Sanders’ budget are nothing new—around $800 billion annually for national defense, $70 billion annually for international affairs and foreign aid, $45 billion for research, NASA, and other scientific pursuits, and $20 billion in subsidies for farmers. Still, many of the expenses listed here are new and ambitious.
Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants
Sanders began his speech unveiling the budget by saying that the time “is long overdue for comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship for millions of undocumented workers and families in this country.”
Giving citizenship to illegal immigrants has been a top priority for the Democratic Party since 2016. As part of this proposal, the party is doubling down on that by allowing for up to $107 billion in spending by the Judiciary Committee.
Free Child Care and Secondary Education
A large portion of the budget is devoted to education, with over $726 billion slated to go toward various programs like childcare, pre-K, and tuition-free community college.
Sanders criticized the state of childcare in the country and asserted that the legislation would ensure that “no working family in this country should be paying more than 7 percent for their childcare.” Sanders said this would be accomplished through providing subsidies to parents to help them afford childcare and by providing higher wages to childcare workers.
The legislation would also provide free pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. “God didn’t create an education system that begins in Kindergarten,” Sanders explained.
Finally, the Democrats have no intention of forgiving student debt or making all public colleges and universities free, but the plan does provide for tuition-free two-year community college.
The budget also allocates $332 billion toward government subsidies for low-income and affordable housing. Sanders criticized the high number of homeless people in the country, and this budget resolution paves the way for the Democrats in Congress to pass more comprehensive housing reform laws.
New Healthcare Reforms and Funding
Another huge focus of the budget is expansion of the Federal Government’s role in health care. As with child care workers, Democrats hope to increase health care worker wages. Sanders criticized the lack of paid leave in the United States, and said that with the new budget the party also plans to legislate paid family and sick leave.
Additionally, the proposal would devote $18 billion to the Veterans Affairs Committee in order to upgrade VA facilities.
‘Extremely Aggressive’ Policies to Move US Away From Fossil Fuels
The budget allocates $198 billion to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with an additional $67 billion directed toward the Environment and Public Works Committee. With this funding, Democrats plan to “transform [the U.S.] energy system away from fossil fuels … in an extremely aggressive way” through research and deployment of alternative energy and increased spending for regulatory agencies like the EPA.
Sanders also proposed that Democrats would create a “Civilian Climate Corps,” which he said would give young people the opportunity “to get decent pay and to roll up their sleeves … in order to combat climate change.” Sanders implied that this “Climate Corps” would help in the “extremely aggressive” transformation away from fossil fuels, but he did not elaborate on the way that the group would help achieve that.
Democrats are looking to further move the nation away from fossil fuels by providing incentives to businesses for reducing carbon emissions and by fining polluters.
New Tax Rules
Given the huge $3.5 trillion price tag on this resolution, there are also plans to change tax rules to finance it.
The budget proposes expansion of IRS tax collection without raising taxes on people making less than $400,000 per year; instead, the party will focus on raising taxes on the very wealthy and corporations.
On top of this, the party plans to increase the child tax credit.
Deficit, National Debt to Skyrocket
With such an expensive price tag, and despite new tax rules, the national debt and the deficit would climb as a result of the budget. According to estimates in the bill, the deficit would increase from $1.3 billion in 2022 up to $1.8 trillion in 2031. Because of this deficit, the national debt would be $45 trillion by 2031.
What’s Next for the Budget Resolution
With its passage by the Senate, Sanders’ budget proposal will go to the House of Representatives.
In a letter to legislators, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stated that the August recess would be interrupted in order to consider the proposal; the House is now set to return to session Aug. 23.
Even then, the party may have a tough battle to pass a final budget. Progressives in the House are adamant that the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation proposal be considered together or not at all. At the same time, some moderates have shown hesitance to approve the huge price tag of the budget but support the bipartisan bill. In a letter to Nancy Pelosi, a few of these moderate elements wrote: “As soon as the Senate completes its work, we must bring this bipartisan infrastructure bill to the House floor for a standalone vote. This once-in-a-century investment deserves its own consideration, without regard to other legislation.”
Because of this internal disagreement, the final fate of the Senate’s budget proposal is unclear.
By Joseph Lord