Senate approves 'blueprint' for $3.5T plan that includes money for education, environment, child care

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats early Wednesday completed an important initial step in their quest to approve a $3.5 trillion bill aimed at tackling a number of President Joe Biden's priorities by subsidizing child care, expanding caregiving and providing free community college and pre-kindergarten.

The Senate, after hours of debate, passed a resolution along party lines on a 50-49 vote that gives committees in Congress instructions to begin crafting the bill, using the resolution as a "blueprint." A final vote on the bill isn't expected until the fall.

But Wednesday's vote serves as the start of a broader fight among Democrats tasked with creating a bill that is crucial to the passage of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan the Senate passed Tuesday. Some moderate Senate Democrats have reservations about the $3.5 trillion price tag, while progressive Democrats in the House say they're willing to vote against the infrastructure deal if the larger package isn't to their liking.

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With narrow Democratic majorities in both chambers, the fate of both bills could come down to how the $3.5 trillion bill is crafted.

Senate Democrats, who hold a slight majority in the 100-member chamber, plan to use a legislative maneuver called reconciliation to pass the plan without the support of Republicans, who generally oppose the measure. Vice President Kamala Harris would be used to break a 50-50 tie.

Like the Senate, Democrats also hold a slight lead in the House, meaning just a handful of Democratic objections could sink both the bipartisan infrastructure package and the larger bill.

Democratic House leaders and progressives insist they will not vote on the infrastructure deal without the $3.5 trillion bill.

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"There won't be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill. Plain and simple," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in June.

But moderates like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have expressed concerns about the size of the $3.5 trillion bill.

Sinema told the Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, in July that she has made it clear to Senate leadership that "while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion."

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The $3.5 trillion bill calls for free pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, two years of free community college, and paid family and sick leave. It also would expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision benefits.

Democrats have long stressed a "two-track plan" for passing the two plans, arguing that the bipartisan deal that invests in roads, bridges, transportation and broadband is simply not big enough.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday ahead of the Senate's passage of the infrastructure package, saying "we Democrats believe we need to do much more."

"The bipartisan infrastructure bill is a very significant bill, but our country has other very significant, very important challenges." He said the budget resolution would "make generational transformation" in the areas of climate change and tax codes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill: Senate votes to start work