WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’s ready to start moving on a Democrat-only Covid-19 relief plan as soon as next week if Republicans continue to reject President Joe Biden’s US$1.9 trillion (S$2.52 trillion) proposal.
“In keeping our options open, on our caucus call today I informed senators to be prepared that a vote on a budget resolution could come as early as next week,” Mr Schumer said at a press briefing Tuesday (Jan 26).
“We have to see what they say in the next few days,” he said of the Republicans.
A budget resolution is the first step toward a so-called reconciliation Bill, which allows the Senate to proceed on a simple-majority vote basis – avoiding the need for 60 votes to cut off the filibuster. It makes all the difference given the chamber’s partisan 50-50 split.
The catch, however, is that not all of Mr Biden’s US$1.9 trillion plan is likely to qualify for that route.
The US$160 billion for Covid-19 vaccines and testing would likely be out because discretionary spending is excluded from the process, while the proposed minimum-wage hike may also be disqualified for having insufficient budget impact.
Stimulus checks and jobless benefits, two major components, would be in. Aid for state and local governments would face a high hurdle.
Mr Schumer noted that some GOP senators could potentially get on board with the reconciliation route. Even so, none has so far come out with an outright endorsement of the Biden plan.
“We’re facing a national emergency with Covid-19 and the economy – we’ve got to move quickly,” said Mr Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership team.
A bipartisan alternative isn’t quite dead yet. White House economic adviser Brian Deese held a Tuesday afternoon call with the Problem Solvers, a 56-member group of centrist House lawmakers.
That caucus agreed there’s a need for a targeted relief package, according to an aide familiar with its discussion with Mr Deese. The members prefer moving legislation on a bipartisan basis – rather than pushing through via reconciliation on Democratic votes-alone, the aide said.
A separate group of 16 Republican and Democratic senators – including Mr Durbin – is also discussing a counterproposal to Mr Biden’s US$1.9 trillion package. GOP Senator Todd Young said Tuesday he hoped the group could meet in the next 24 to 48 hours to work on bipartisan relief Bill.
If it is targeted, the Bill could come together in “short order,” Mr Young said.
The administration continues to provide the bipartisan group details on the basis of its calculation for the need of US$1.9 trillion – an amount that moderate Republicans said was excessive given that the Congress just passed a US$900 billion bill last month.
Congressional Democrats are moving ahead on the reconciliation option. House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said Monday his panel could assemble a budget resolution to put the floor of his chamber next week.
The process in the Senate involves a floor “vote-a-rama” where hundreds of amendments can be offered to the budget for simple majority votes. Those can take days to resolve.
Once a concurrent budget resolution with reconciliation instructions is adopted, committees would then need to draft legislation adhering to the outline. That legislation would then need to pass both the House and the Senate, be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and survive any rules challenges in the Senate. The second process would likely take weeks.
The administrations of Mr Donald Trump and Mr George W. Bush used the reconciliation process to pass tax-cut packages in 2017, 2003 and 2001. President Barack Obama used it for his signature Affordable Care Act.
One option for Democrats would be to divide the Biden programme into parts, with the more contentious items proceeding via reconciliation. Republicans have voiced support for additional spending for vaccines, which could open a path toward enactment through the regular procedure.
“Biden may need to divide his agenda into regular order and the reconciliation process depending on the policy mix,” UBS Group AG economists including Andrew Dubinsky wrote in a note Monday. “Legislation with a larger price tag and less bipartisan support could get done via reconciliation.”
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