The legislation includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an increase and extension of emergency unemployment benefits set to expire in mid-March, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, schools, vaccine production and distribution, increased testing, and more.
Democrats are making plans to use a budgetary tool known as “reconciliation,” which would allow the package to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required for major legislation. This approach could amount to an abandonment of Biden’s calls for bipartisan unity, but many Democrats say the matter is too urgent to wait to craft a bipartisan deal.
The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, and it’s looking unlikely that Biden’s plan could garner 60 votes in the chamber given the level of GOP opposition.
The first step is for the House and Senate to pass budget bills that lay out the terms for passing the actual coronavirus relief legislation. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said Monday that his committee is in the process of drafting a budget bill and “we will be prepared to go to the floor as early as next week.”
The Senate is also prepared to vote as early as next week, according to a senior Democrat involved in planning who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been outspoken in favor of using the “budget reconciliation” process, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday: “We’re going to use reconciliation — that is 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now.”
A number of Senate Democrats have also voiced skepticism about elements of the deal, pressing White House officials on a call Sunday about whether the new round of stimulus checks could be more targeted, among other concerns. That means it could be a struggle for Biden even to unite his own party behind his bill.
But the Senate is set to convene for former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Feb. 9, and Psaki indicated Monday that Biden wanted to see action on his relief bill before then. Reaching agreement on a final package in the next two weeks is not realistic, but passing budget resolutions would at least get the process started.
Psaki also indicated more openness to using the budget reconciliation approach than she has in the past.
“Reconciliation is a means of getting a bill passed. There are a number of means of getting bills passed. That does not mean, regardless of how the bill is passed, that Democrats and Republicans cannot both vote for it,” Psaki said. “So the president obviously wants to make this bipartisan, hence he’s engaging with members of both parties and he remains committed to that.”
“There’s an urgency to moving it forward and he certainly believes there needs to be progress in the next couple of weeks,” Psaki added, describing the mid-March deadline for when unemployment benefits run out as the “unemployment cliff.”
Psaki declined to say what elements of the package Biden would be willing to jettison to get GOP support. Republicans have been particularly resistant to the minimum wage increase, which a number of experts believe would not be able to be included in legislation that passes under reconciliation rules, which prohibit items that do not have an impact on the federal budget.