The Senate will return to Washington on Monday from a two-week recess facing a pile of complicated legislative work and key deadlines looming in the push to enact President Biden’s far-reaching economic agenda.
Democratic leaders have mapped out a monthlong sprint for senators, warning them to prepare for late nights, weekend work and even the cancellation of part of their beloved August recess to set up final passage of their priorities in the fall. The House does not return until next week, but will face a similar time crunch when it does.
Their goal is to simultaneously advance two hulking bills before the summer break: a bipartisan investment in roads, bridges, high-speed internet and other infrastructure projects; and a far larger and more partisan package that would include tax increases on corporations and the rich to fund an expansion of the social safety net and programs to fight climate change. If successful, the July sprint would set up Congress to pass both bills into law when it returns to work in September.
“We are proceeding on both tracks very well,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Sunday. “I was on the phone all weekend talking to all kinds of different people and legislators about moving forward on those tracks, as well as with the White House and the president, and we’re moving forward.”
But given the sheer ambition of the legislation — the two bills together could spend $3 trillion or much more — and Democrats’ narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, the task will not be easy. One or both bills could stall or fall apart as Democratic leaders try to placate both a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats who struck a rare bipartisan agreement on traditional infrastructure spending, as well as their more progressive Democratic members, who are pushing for a more ambitious package focused on education, child care, taxes, health care and the environment.
After reaching an agreement to spend $579 billion in new money on infrastructure projects last month, the bipartisan group of senators spent much of the extended July 4 recess turning their framework into real legislation that they believe can with 60 votes in the Senate and pass the Democratic-led House. Key Senate committees are expected to begin moving parts of that bill this week, and Mr. Schumer has said he expects a vote by the full Senate before leaving in August. It remains to be seen if he can consolidate the votes needed to pass it.
Work on the other legislative package, which Republicans have signaled they will oppose, is progressing more slowly. Democrats are prepared to pass it using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation that would allow them to get around a Republican filibuster. But that means the party will most likely have no votes to spare in the Senate, and its moderate and progressive wings will have to reach agreement on what to include and how much to spend.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is pushing for up to $6 trillion in spending, and told The New York Times last week that a proposal by moderates to spend one-third of that or less was “much too low.”
Those differences will have to be resolved quickly. Mr. Schumer wants the Senate to hold a vote on a budget resolution mapping out the reconciliation spending before the Senate leaves town. Action in the House could follow.