Why We Need the $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill

As Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I want to say a few words about some of the important budgetary issues that Congress is now facing.

I want to focus on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill but before that I want to comment on the looming debt ceiling crisis.  Republican leader Mitch McConnell this morning once again reiterated that the Republican Party will not vote to lift the debt ceiling and in extraordinarily irresponsible manner, will not pay the debts incurred under the Trump Administration.

In his statement, as he has done time and time again, Senator McConnell implies that this debt ceiling has something to do with future spending.  It does not.  Like anybody who owns a credit card the payments that are made are for past spending, in this case spending incurred under President Trump.  And let’s be clear: if the United States, the largest economy in the world, defaults on its debt it will plunge not only our country but the entire global economy into a severe economic depression.  That means massive unemployment, higher interest rates, severe reduction in government services and possible cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

The irresponsibility of the Republican leadership is not just something that I worry about.  According to press reports, former Republican secretaries of Treasury Hank Paulsen who worked under George W. Bush and Steven Mnuchin, who worked under Donald Trump, both visited with Senator McConnell to make the case about the need to extend the debt ceiling.

They understand how important it is that the United States of America does not default on its debt and it is about time that my Republican colleagues listened to them.

Now let’s go to reconciliation.  There has been a lot of talk about the need to compromise.  Well, let me be clear.  To a very significant degree that has already taken place.  Of the 11 Democratic Members of the Senate Budget Committee, 9 understood the need for a $6 trillion bill which would finally address the unmet needs of the working families of our country as well as begin the process of tackling the existential threat of climate change.  My guess is that at least 40 out of the 50 members of the Democratic caucus supported the $6 trillion proposal.

We compromised – big time.  We cut that proposal almost in half and agreed to a $3.5 trillion bill.  That to my mind is a major compromise.

And, as we go forward in this debate, let’s talk about why we need every penny in that bill.  And, let us, at this point, also make clear that this bill should not add a nickel to the deficit, and that it should be paid for by finally demanding that the wealthiest people in this country and the largest corporations in this country start paying their fair share of taxes.  SO anyone who tells you that a $3.5 trillion bill is going to add to the deficit is not telling the truth.  It should and will be fully paid for.

So what’s in this legislation?  The corporate media has done a pretty bad job about talking about it so let me talk about some of the most consequential pieces in it.

First, as a result of the extraordinarily successful American Rescue Plan, we cut childhood poverty in this country by over half.  And for black and brown families that number is even higher.  We must extend the $300 a month per child direct payment that working class families are now receiving.  To not pass this reconciliation bill, and not continue those payments, would plunge those children back into poverty which is morally unacceptable.

Furthermore, in the United States of America, every person in Congress should be outraged by the dysfunctionality of our childcare system. It is not a radical idea to say that every family in America should be entitled to high quality and affordable childcare.  And under this legislation no working family in this country will be paying more than 7 percent of their income for childcare.

On top of that, we are going to make pre-K education for 3-and 4-year-olds free. Yes, that is right–free. We are going to do what other industrialized countries do and understand that the most important investment we can make is in the little children.

By the way, when we do that, we are going to allow well over a million women to go back to work because they no longer have to stay home because of lack of affordable childcare.

In the midst of massive labor shortages in many part of the country creating a strong childcare system is a no brainer.

Further, at a time when the pharmaceutical industry charges us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs we are going to demand that Medicare start negotiating prescription drug costs with the pharmaceutical industry.   We’re also going to significantly lower prescription drug costs for all Americans.  And with those savings which should amount to at least $500 billion we are going to do what the overwhelming majority of the American people want us to do and expand Medicare to include the dental, vision and hearing benefits that senior citizens desperately need.

This is America.  Elderly people should not walk around with no teeth in their mouth and not be able to afford to go to a dentist.  Grandparents should not be unable to communicate with their grandchildren because they cannot afford hearing aids.  And seniors should not be unable to read their daily newspaper because they can’t afford a pair of glasses.  The need to expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses is absolutely critical.  Nobody denies that oral health, hearing and vision are essential parts of healthcare.  We cannot continue to deny seniors these basic healthcare benefits.

Not surprisingly, that out of all of the provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, expanding Medicare to provide dental, vision and hearing aids is, by far and away, the most popular.  According to a June 30th Morning Consult poll, adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare is supported by 84% of the American people including 89% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans.  This is what the American people want and this is what we must deliver to them.

Given that, it is hard for me to imagine that any member of the House or the Senate would oppose this very popular provision.

Mr. President, it is a bit embarrassing that our great country is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave.

Imagine that. Every other country in the world, virtually, does that.  In America, I have met with women, low-income women, who give birth, and then they have to go back to work in a week or two because they don’t have the money to stay home. We are going to end that. We are going to have, as a nation, guaranteed paid family and medical leave.

We are going to address the reality that many of our younger people are unable to obtain the good-paying jobs that are out there because they lack the higher education.

Now, I myself will go further than this bill is going to go. I think time is long overdue to make public colleges and universities tuition-free and cancel all student debt. That is not what is in this bill. But what is in this bill says that, at the very least, every American will have the right to get 2 years of community college, and they can use that to get the training they need, to get the good jobs. Maybe it is nursing. Maybe it is something else. But they will also get the credits they need so they can transfer into a 4-year school, making a big step forward in getting young people the ability to get the training they need and the education they need to obtain the good-paying jobs that are out there.

Mr. President, I know that you are aware that right here in this country, right here on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, you have people sleeping out on the street, and they are sleeping out on the street in every State in this country. In fact, we have almost 600,000 people sleeping out on the streets of the wealthiest country in the history of the world. Well, this legislation will create millions of jobs in housing and in other areas because we are going to build the low income and affordable housing that we need.

It is not only homelessness. You have 18 million households spending 50 percent of their limited incomes on housing. We need to build low-income and affordable housing, and when we do that, we will create a heck of a lot of good-paying jobs.

Mr. President, we are an aging society, and whether people have severe disabilities or whether they are just getting old, people would rather stay at home in many cases rather than be forced into nursing homes. What our legislation will do is significantly improve home healthcare in this country and make sure that those people who provide that important service, difficult service, are adequately compensated.

I know that many of my Republican colleagues don’t believe that climate change is real, don’t believe that we should do anything about it, but they are dead wrong. And we cannot go home and look our children and grandchildren in the eye knowing what we know, knowing that in many ways, the climate crisis turns out to be worse than what scientists predicted it would be.

We turn on the TV and we see the unbelievable fires in Oregon and California, and learn that the Siberian fire (the largest in the world) is sending smoke thousands of miles. We learn that July was the hottest month ever, and the climate change is exacerbating extreme weather disturbances like hurricane Ida which brought havoc on Louisiana.

This legislation takes an important step forward. It doesn’t go as far as it should, but it is a major step forward in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

I know we have heard from my Republican colleagues who are very upset that this will be a partisan bill, which it will be, but let me remind them that they use the so-called reconciliation process recently in two areas–two areas.

No. 1, they thought it important to go forward in a partisan way, without Democratic support, for the enormously important goal of giving massive tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations which drove up the national debt by $2 trillion.  That is how they used the reconciliation process.

Well, we have a little different idea. We are going to use the reconciliation process and the 50 votes we have with the Vice President to protect the working families of this country, not the billionaire class.

The other effort that they made in terms of reconciliation was to try–and they came within one vote of doing it; the late John McCain–they would have thrown up to 30 million Americans off of healthcare by ending the Affordable Care Act.

So they have used reconciliation, and we will use it, except we are going to use it to protect ordinary Americans–the children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor–rather than just the very wealthy or the pharmaceutical industry.

Mr. President, let me conclude by reiterating what has been said time and time again by the President, by the Majority Leader of the Senate and by the Speaker of the House: There are two extremely important pieces of legislation that we are dealing with and both must be passed together.  We need to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill which will help rebuild our roads and bridges and wastewater plants and other physical assets.  But even more importantly, we need to address the crises facing working families all over this country.

When we go forward and do that, when we protect our children and the elderly and the environment, we are going to create millions of good-paying jobs, put people to work rebuilding this country in a way that is long, long overdue.

Prepared remarks delivered on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need to address the long-neglected crises facing the working class and pass the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill.