Pre-K to Affordable Housing: What's In Democrats' Agenda-Heavy Partisan Budget Blueprint

Democratic leaders in Congress, backed by U.S. President Joe Biden, are beginning work on a budget that includes sweeping domestic policy measures catering to key priorities: education, health care and climate change among them.

The U.S. Senate adopted a broad $3.5 trillion budget blueprint this week—kickstarting work to more clearly define which programs will be funded and at what level, but Democrats already have charted a path to include major new programs, without support from their Republican colleagues.

"Today we move this country in a very different direction," U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats and chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said on the Senate floor. "The president and the Democratic caucus are prepared to go forward in addressing the long-neglected needs of working families—not just the 1 percent and wealthy campaign contributors."

Republicans have argued the sweeping proposal is too costly.

"This idea that this is going to be paid for by taxing the rich is a bunch of B.S.," Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on the Senate floor. "If you took the entire wealth of the 1 percent, including their cars and their dogs, it's less than half [of what] we need to deal with the entitlement problems we already have."

The Senate needs support from all 50 Democrats to pass the budget measures, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Here are some of the priorities that Democrats will try to put in the final agreement:

Universal Pre-K and Free Community College

President Biden campaigned on a proposal to expand free pre-kindergarten to all 3- and 4-year-olds and free community college for two years for young adults.

Both made it into the Democrats' budget outline and will be vetted by the influential Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

"This will give millions of young people and working people the opportunity to get the education they need to acquire the skills so they can go out and get the good-paying jobs that are out there," Sanders said of the community college component. "It will also give people the opportunity to transfer the two years of credits earned at a community college to a four-year school."

In all, the proposal would expand government-paid public education from the 13 years offered from kindergarten through high school to 17 years.

Paid Family Leave

Republicans and Democrats have long debated proposals to create a program for parental leave. Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father, former President Donald Trump, was one of the top advocates for paid family leave for federal workers during the previous administration.

The Senate will work on specifics of a nation-wide proposal, but Biden's plan calls for workers with new children or sick family members to be paid up to $4,000 a month when they need to take time off. The White House estimates that such a program would cost $225 billion over a decade.

Sanders said it's an "international disgrace" that the United States doesn't already have such a program, as many other countries do.

Expanded Medicare Benefits

Medicare covers health insurance for more than 60 million people—most of them 65 and older, but the federally-backed program doesn't include standard vision, dental and hearing care that could prevent more complex health issues down the road.

Since its creation in the 1960s, Medicare has seen few changes but it remains publicly popular.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has previously estimated an expansion of benefits to cover vision, dental and hearing would cost $358 billion over 10 years.

The Senate also has opened up the possibility of lowering the eligibility age for most Americans from 65 to 60—a change that Biden advocated on the campaign trail.

Climate Change

The Senate outline calls for incentives for clean energy and addressing climate change through efforts to promote green energy over fossil fuels and new polluter fees, among other proposals.

It also includes language for possibly creating a Civilian Climate Corps, as Biden has pushed.

"This legislation begins the process of combatting climate change so that our kids and grandchildren can live in a country and a planet which is healthy and habitable," Sanders said. "It would be immoral and an absolute dereliction of our responsibilities as elected officials to do anything less."

Affordable Housing

Senate leaders have identified several measures meant to address affordable housing and homelessness that they will try to get into a final version of the budget.

Some of the proposals include historic investments in the Housing Trust Fund, the Capital Magnet Fund and rural housing programs.

Democrats also want to increase funding for the HOME program that is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed to create affordable housing for low-income households.

Other proposals include increased money for rental assistance and down-payment assistance.

"This budget proposal will combat homelessness in America and address the reality that nearly 18 million households are paying over 50 percent of their limited incomes for housing through an unprecedented investment in affordable housing," Sanders said.

Senate advances $3.5 trillion budget blueprint
President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, aDemocrat from New York, depart a lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol July 14 in Washington, D.C. President President Biden was on the Hill to discuss with Senate Democrats the $3.5 reconciliation package that would expand Medicare benefits, boost federal safety net programs and combat climate change. Alex Wong/Getty Images