By Kristina Peterson
WASHINGTON -- Senior Democrats said they hoped to pass budget
resolutions by the end of July, teeing up for late summer and early
fall a package that could determine the scope of President Biden's
legislative ambitions on infrastructure and social programs.
At the same time, Congress will likely have to juggle key
spending bills and legislation to raise the country's borrowing
limit, aligning must-pass legislation with a period of high-stakes
In an interview this week, House Budget Committee Chairman John
Yarmuth (D., Ky.) said he was working on a fiscal year 2022 budget
resolution that he hoped to send to the House floor for a vote by
the end of July. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders
(I., Vt.) said he hoped "we can get it done by then" as well.
Although the budget blueprint is typically a largely symbolic
document, it holds unusual significance this year. It is the
necessary first step if Democrats want to pass all or part of Mr.
Biden's infrastructure and anti-poverty proposals without GOP
Senate Democrats said this week they were moving forward with a
process tied to the budget known as reconciliation that allows them
to pass legislation with just a simple majority, rather than the 60
votes most bills require.
Mr. Yarmuth said Thursday that House Democrats were preparing a
budget that would enable them to pass Mr. Biden's full
infrastructure and anti-poverty proposals along party lines, but
could make quick adjustments if a bipartisan deal on infrastructure
"We're going to act as if it's all done by reconciliation and
hope that somewhere along the line there's a bipartisan agreement,"
Mr. Biden has said he hopes to reach a bipartisan deal on
infrastructure, but he hasn't succeeded so far. Mr. Biden ended
talks this week with Republican negotiator Sen. Shelley Moore
Capito (R., W.Va.) after they hit an impasse over spending levels
and how to pay for the package.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 10 senators announced an
agreement Thursday evening to spend $974 billion on infrastructure
over five years, of which $579 billion would be above expected
future federal spending.
The group, however, hasn't made public how it proposes to pay
for its infrastructure package, long the biggest sticking point
over years of discussions on the issue. The White House said it
appreciated the work and would seek more details on the plan and
how it would be paid for.
If no agreement can be reached across the aisle, then Democrats
will seek to pass a sweeping package along party lines. But even
without Republicans, Democrats could still be thwarted by several
First, in order to unlock the special shortcuts offered by the
budget process, they will need to agree on a budget. Mr. Yarmuth
said he expected the budget's overall amount of defense spending
would be close to the figure recommended by Mr. Biden in his budget
request, $753 billion, a 1.7% increase from the last fiscal year,
which some liberal Democrats view as too high. Mr. Biden proposed a
much larger 16% increase in non-military spending to $769
"I expect some agonizing over it," Mr. Yarmuth said of the
defense spending. "It's going to be hard for a lot of members to
swallow that," but he said he hoped the big increase in non-defense
spending would ease their concerns. "It allows us to meet so many
of our priorities that I think most people in the final analysis
will say it's worth voting for a resolution with that number in
Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Barbara Lee of
California, the co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus,
said in a statement after Mr. Biden released his budget last month
that the increase in defense spending was misguided.
"Congress must act this year to cut what we spend on war and
refocus on the most pressing challenges confronting Americans and
the world," the lawmakers said.
Democrats are operating with razor-thin majorities in both
chambers. In the House, Democrats can lose no more than three of
their own ranks on legislation opposed by all Republicans. And in
the 50-50 Senate, Democrats can afford no defections on simple
If both chambers are able to pass an identical budget resolution
before the August recess, lawmakers are likely to be grappling with
a sweeping legislative package in September, when they are also
running up against deadlines to reauthorize a highway bill and the
annual spending bills before the government's current funding
expires Oct. 1.
Congress this year must also tackle the federal borrowing limit,
which has been suspended since December 2019 but is set to return
Aug. 1. After that, the Treasury Department won't be able to tap
bond markets to raise new cash to finance government operations
unless Congress either raises or suspends the borrowing limit
The agency can take steps to conserve cash, but Treasury
Secretary Janet Yellen has warned those extraordinary measures
might not last as long as they have in the past -- typically three
or four months -- because of the uncertainty around government
spending and receipts during the pandemic.
Both Messrs. Yarmuth and Sanders said Democrats were considering
whether to try to raise the debt limit with or without the support
of Republicans, who have often demanded spending cuts in exchange
for their approval on increasing the borrowing limit. Democrats
could approve an increase in the debt limit through reconciliation,
though it is unclear if they will attempt to do so before the Aug.
Mr. Yarmuth said his hope would be to avoid brinkmanship that
could rattle the markets.
"We have to have a very honest discussion about the debt limit
and many -- not all, but many -- of my Democratic colleagues do not
believe that debt matters anymore," said Sen. John Kennedy (R.,
La.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee. "I would like to
hear their explanation for that."
--Andrew Duehren contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 11, 2021 14:50 ET (18:50 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.