Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Who will be a key figure for Biden in shaping reconciliation legislation as the new head of the Senate Budget Committee, pledged on Tuesday to use the powerful procedure to deal with the immediate health and economic crisis at hand.
“As we speak, my staff and I are working, we are working with the people of Biden, we are working with the Democratic leadership, we will be working with my colleagues in the House to determine how we can find the most aggressive reconciliation bill to deal with the suffering of working American families today, ”Sanders said in an interview.
Sanders recognized the dual problem that Congress will need to address: both the immediate pandemic crisis and the economic downturn, and what he called a broader “systemic crisis” in unemployment. And while lawmakers should think about using reconciliation to resolve both issues, he said, “I’m still not sure if both ways end up in one or two pieces of legislation.
Biden officials say getting help for those in need and fully funding a coordinated national response to the pandemic are the president-elect’s top legislative priorities. Senate advisers have confirmed that Biden is in touch with Democratic leaders on the Hill about his overall priorities. But his team’s work with Congress on a strategy is still evolving amid the ongoing impeachment trial and Biden’s speech later this week detailing his Covid plan and legislative agenda.
Passing the relief package through reconciliation would allow Democrats to bypass Republicans entirely and pass the bill with just 50 votes – plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker – rather than 60. Some Senate advisers have pointed out that this would allow the chamber to move faster, without having to spend time convincing Republicans on board or giving them a chance to miss the time.
Democrats are defending themselves preemptively by using reconciliation to pass laws that aren’t strictly focused on the budget. Several contributors pointed to unsuccessful attempts by Republicans in 2017 to use the process to get rid of the affordable care law as setting a precedent that they are now entitled to follow.
“When and where we can, we will strive to make this important work bipartisan,” new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Tuesday in a letter to Democratic senators, in which he called the relief Senate first-order Covid emergency. “However, if our fellow Republicans decide not to join us in our efforts to resolve these issues, we will not let that stop progress.”
But reconciliation also comes with bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions that some members say could further slow the relief effort and allow any Democratic dissident to derail the legislation.
“We will have to get a budget resolution through committee, then go to the floor, then do a vote-a-rama, then have the process of negotiating what goes into the bill within this budget framework, then make sure that we have all 50 votes without losing a single one, ”explained a Democratic Senate assistant. “You hope everything turns out well and quickly, but history has shown that when you have a margin of error of zero votes, it rarely does.”
However, while aides expect some tension between progressive and moderate Democrats over the overall price of the bill, they said there was broad agreement on the underlying policies.
Currently, items under discussion for the package include another round of stimulus checks, a $ 600-a-week increase for unemployment insurance, billions for state and local governments which saw tax revenues crater during the pandemic, funding to save the beleaguered deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine, aid to restaurants and other small businesses and, potentially, an increase in Obamacare grants.
Democratic officials close to the transition say the stimulus checks – which are expected to total $ 1,400 and will build on the $ 600 Congressional $ 600 voted in December – and the money to help states distribute vaccines and reopen clinics. schools are likely to be given priority and gain the broadest support.
But pushing a package through reconciliation would give Democrats an opportunity to be more ambitious, allowing them to approve more aid to states and local governments than most Republicans have opposed for months. It could also allow them to ignore Republicans’ demands for a corporate liability shield that Democrats say would mean impunity for employers who endanger the health of their workers.
Some of Biden’s allies expect Democrats to incorporate other priorities into the first package as well, given the procedural hurdles they will have to overcome to get it through a simple majority. Others warn that adding too many items could reduce his chances of making it to Biden’s office.
But addressing some non-Covid priorities in the package could have the dual benefit of providing economic stimulus as well, say many economists, in addition to much needed relief.
Cecilia Rouse, the candidate for the president-elect to head the Council of Economic Advisers, on Friday called direct payments to families and financing to deal with the pandemic a “liferaft” simply by keeping the economy afloat, while that investments in areas such as infrastructure would help the United States begin to return to pre-pandemic economic levels.