House approves budget resolution for COVID-19 package


The House on Wednesday approved a budget resolution in a 218-212 vote that would allow Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill without Republican support.

Two Democrats voted against the measure in the otherwise party-line vote.

The Senate will also have to pass a budget resolution, and then both chambers would need to approve a budget reconciliation package that would include the COVID-19 relief deal.

Using the rules prevents Republicans in the Senate from filibustering the package, and will mean Democrats will not have to offer concessions to move the deal.

Democrats noted that Republicans could vote for the package, while signaling they would not wait for them to move toward the White House position.

“There will be plenty of opportunities for my colleagues across the aisle to engage in this process and offer amendments. But we cannot afford to slow down our response to these urgent crises while Republicans decide if they want to help or not,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).

Republicans have balked at the package so far, arguing it is too expensive given other relief measures approved by Congress and that it is poorly targeted, especially just weeks after Congress approved a $900 billion relief measure in December.

They say using the budget measures to move the bill undermines Biden’s own message of bipartisan cooperation and unity.

“What's the example here? That the unification, the bipartisanship, work together-attitude that the president called for was just empty words for the House Majority,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Budget panel.

President Biden met with a group of 10 GOP senators at the White House on Monday in what both sides said was a positive meeting. But the White House indicated the $618 billion proposal offered by those Republicans is too small.

“There's agreement, universal agreement we must go big and bold," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday after Biden hosted Democratic senators to discuss the state of play.

“We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in that, in that big bold program that America needs.”

Biden has signaled some flexibility on eligibility for $1,400 stimulus checks that are a part of the proposal.

Biden indicated that while he wanted to stick to the $1,400 figure, he’s open to targeting the checks so that wealthier households do not receive them.

“We can better target them,” Biden told House Democrats on a Wednesday call, “but I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people.”

The House vote may serve as an early indication of Democrats’ ability to keep their diverse caucus united. Progressives such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) pushed for a larger relief package with recurring stimulus payments, but still voted for the $1.9 trillion cap in the budget resolution.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is slated to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, said the Biden proposal to increase a weekly $300 top-up to unemployment benefits was a floor, not a ceiling.

Last year, an initial $600 top-up caused controversy after studies showed it pushed benefits above wages for a majority of recipients. The benefit expired in August before being renewed at $300 in the December package.

In the Senate, lawmakers are readying for a late Thursday night and Friday morning of voting on budget amendments.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that he intends to make Democrats take politically uncomfortable votes.

“We’ll be getting senators on the record about whether taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants … whether Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses in the midst of this historic crisis … and whether generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Once authorizing committees draw up legislation based on the budget’s reconciliation instructions, Republicans will have another change to challenge aspects of the bill for so-called Byrd Rule violations.

The rule stipulates that the fast-track process cannot be used for issues that do not directly affect deficits, among other things. Democrats have recently argued that their inclusion of a $15 minimum wage bill should comply given its effects on welfare spending, but the Senate Parliamentarian will have the final say.

Republicans have also indicated their dismay at Democrats advancing the budget by saying they would work to delay confirmation votes for Biden’s administration until after both the budget process and former President Trump’s second impeachment trial are wrapped up.

“We're not intentionally trying to slow it down but the Democrats have chosen the agenda, and they've chosen to do the budget resolution, so if there's a delay in nominations, it's because of their choice,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

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