Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman, said Senate Democrats may utilize the budget reconciliation process to quickly pass a COVID-19 relief bill if Republicans refuse to back President Joe Biden’s plans.
“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, a Democratic socialist, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Jan. 24 on “State of the Union.”
The Biden administration has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package that includes items such as more money for vaccines, an extra $1,400 in stimulus checks on top of the $600 checks already approved, and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. But some Republicans have already voiced their reluctance, panning the new proposal as an expensive, unworkable liberal wish-list.
Others such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) are worried about the debt.
“Spending and borrowing trillions of dollars from the Chinese among others is not necessarily the best thing we can do to get our economy to be strong long-term,” Romney told Fox News on Jan. 25, adding that the “total figure is pretty shocking.”
For any bill to pass the Senate, it would require the support of at least 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold under the legislative filibuster rule in a 50–50 split upper chamber.
Democrats control the current Senate, since Vice President Kamala Harris is president of the Senate and, in that role, can cast tie-breaking votes. Democrats also control the House of Representatives for the second straight term, although with a narrower majority than before.
The budget reconciliation process, created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, isn’t subject to filibuster and allows the Senate to pass bills relatively quickly with a simple majority. First used by Congress in 1980, the process allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt-limit legislation.
“Now, as you know, reconciliation, which is a Senate rule, was used by the Republicans under Trump to pass massive tax breaks for the rich and corporations,” said Sanders, who was a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “It was used as an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And what we’re saying is ‘You used it for that. That’s fine. We are going to use reconciliation. … We’re going to do it to protect ordinary people, not the rich and the powerful.”
Bash pointed out that Sanders had previously been critical of Republicans’ use of the maneuver.
“Yes, I did criticize them for that. 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,” Sanders said.
“The American people are hurting, and they want us to act,” he said. “We have got to restore the faith of the American people in government that we can respond to their pain.
“I know that working families are living today in more economic desperation since the Great Depression,” Sanders said. “If Republicans are willing to work with us to address that crisis, welcome, let’s do it. What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward. We have got to act now.”
The Senate at the end of last year passed a $900 billion stimulus package that included $600 checks, money for colleges, and funding for food stamps. The GOP Senate leadership refused to support former President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 in direct payments, which quickly won support from Democrats and some Republicans.
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.