Democrats in Congress are laying the groundwork to use the budget reconciliation process to avoid having to win over any Republicans to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that some GOP lawmakers have panned as an expensive, unworkable liberal wish-list.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Democratic senators Wednesday to be ready to vote on the relief bill as early as next week under a so-called “reconciliation” procedure that would not require any Republican support in a 50-50 split Senate in which Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tie-breaking vote.
“The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must,” Schumer said Wednesday, after a private meeting with Democratic senators.
“Time is of the essence to address this crisis. We’re keeping all options open on the table,” he added.
With the remarks, Schumer is setting the stage for passage of the relief bill by a simple 51-vote majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold typically needed to advance legislation.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming Budget Committee chair, is preparing the budget blueprint, which will contain instructions to certain authorizing committees to include in it pieces of the relief bill. The Budget Committee then assembles these into one big bill, which has a special status in the Senate and, like the budget, it cannot be filibustered, meaning it will not require the 60-vote threshold to pass.
“We are 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,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union” program on Sunday.
In 2017, Senate Republicans used budget reconciliation to pass tax cuts, a move that Sanders sharply criticized, saying the GOP was “abusing this process.”
Asked about his criticism of Republicans for what he was now proposing to do with the pandemic relief bill, Sanders told CNN that the dire circumstances brought about by the outbreak justify the move.
“Yes, I did criticize them for that,” Sanders said.
“And if they want to criticize me for helping to feed children who are hungry or senior citizens in this country who are isolated and alone and don’t have enough food, they can criticize me,” he added.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that pushing Biden’s relief bill by means of reconciliation would undercut his calls for unity and bipartisanship.
“It would exacerbate the partisanship around here; it would make it more difficult to find common ground; and it would therefore be bad for the American people,” Portman said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, in a statement last week, warned Biden not to exploit the pandemic to push a laundry list of liberal causes in the relief package, characterizing the president’s bid as “a big government take-over of the U.S. economy.”
“It’s reckless to borrow another $2 trillion on top of $4 trillion already in the pipeline. While more pandemic relief is needed, some of the line items are a political pipe dream for progressives,” he said.
The sweeping bill includes $400 billion to expand vaccinations and to reopen schools, $1,400 direct payments to households, as well as other priorities, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Congress has approved some $4 trillion in emergency pandemic relief since the start of the pandemic last year, the largest rescue package in American history.