U.S. Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled a sweeping $3.5 trillion social safety net proposal that would sharply expand the role of the national government in the lives of millions of Americans.
The plan formally embraces many of the 2020 campaign promises of President Joe Biden, to give impoverished people a better shot at joining middle class American life. At the same time, it would expand government services across an array of existing and new programs.
It would provide universal free pre-kindergarten schooling for 3- and 4-year-old children and two years of free community college classes for high school graduates. For older Americans, the plan would boost federal spending for added health care benefits with first-time funding for dental, vision and hearing aid care.
The Democrats' plan, already being uniformly pilloried by Republican lawmakers as too costly and a vast overreach toward a socialist wish list of government largesse, also would invest new sums to fight climate change, change federal immigration laws and attempt to lower prescription drug prices. Some Democratic lawmakers have also voiced reservations about the massive cost of the proposal.
The Senate Democrats say they would pay for the package with higher taxes on corporations and individuals earning more than $400,000 a year, which Republicans also oppose it because the changes would undo some of the tax cuts they enacted in 2017 under former President Donald Trump.
The new spending proposal is in addition to the estimated $1 trillion infrastructure package for road and bridge repair, broadband internet construction, and rail and transit expansion that is nearing approval in the Senate, possibly on Tuesday.
The Senate is likely to approve the infrastructure measure with unanimous Democratic support and about a third of the 50-member Republican bloc of lawmakers before sending it to the House of Representatives, where some Democrats say the package is too small and passage is uncertain. Some House Democratic progressives say they won't vote for the infrastructure package, another Biden priority, until they can approve the social safety net legislation.
Senate Democrats, with no Republican support, hope to push through the broad outlines of the new social safety net spending plan in the coming days on a simple majority vote in the politically divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote for the Democrats. But any eventual legislation, with specific spending proposals, could take Congress months for consideration and enactment.
In introducing the $3.5 trillion package, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told Democratic colleagues in a letter, "At its core, this legislation is about restoring the middle class in the 21st Century and giving more Americans the opportunity to get there."
"By making education, health care, childcare, and housing more affordable, we can give tens of millions of families a leg up," Schumer said.
The social safety net legislation was largely drafted by one of the Senate's most liberal lawmakers, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In a statement, Sanders said, "For too many decades, Congress has ignored the needs of the working class, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor."
"Now is the time for bold action," he said. "Now is the time to restore faith in ordinary Americans that their government can work for them, and not just wealthy campaign contributors."
But the Senate Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is scoffing at the Democratic proposal.
He said last week that discussion of it "will thrust the Senate into an ultra-partisan showdown over the staggering, reckless taxing and spending spree" that Democrats want.
He said Schumer is making Democrats vote on "nothing less than Chairman Sanders' dream shopping list. Every American family will know exactly where their senator stands."