House Democrats on Friday voted to adopt a final budget measure, setting off an approximately two-week sprint to draft a coronavirus relief bill that would mark President Joe Biden’s first legislative win.
With the resolution’s adoption, congressional Democrats have now cleared the last hurdle to unlocking the budget maneuver known as reconciliation, which will allow the party to muscle through a sprawling relief bill without relying on GOP votes.
The process — which was used to approve sprawling bills like Obamacare and the GOP’s tax cuts package — comes with a strict deadline this time around. Democrats must pass the bill before March 14 to prevent some boosted jobless benefits from expiring.
“On Monday we will begin working on the specifics of the bill. Hopefully in a two-week period of time we’ll send something over to the Senate and this will be done long before the due date,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after a meeting at the White House, where she and other top Democrats huddled with Biden to discuss the relief package.
Most House members will now leave Washington, D.C., for two weeks, while Democratic chairs assemble a sprawling economic rescue package that can win support from nearly every one of their members in both chambers. Pelosi is hoping to have the bill finished for a floor vote the week of Feb. 22.
Further complicating matters, the Democratic bill will need to obey fickle Senate budget rules, which could force Biden and the party to downsize their ambitions. The push to include a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, for example, is among the policies that may not pass muster.
As expected, every House Republican opposed the measure, hours after the Senate’s 15-hour “vote-a-rama” session also ended in an entirely party-line vote.
Top Democrats — and the Biden administration — insist that some Republicans could still support their measure when it comes to the floor. But GOP leaders have been clear they do not support the partisan reconciliation process.
The $1.9 trillion package will be the culmination of 25 committees in both chambers working over the next two weeks. The massive relief bill is expected to include a round of $1,400 stimulus checks in addition to $350 billion in state and local aid and a boost in weekly federal unemployment benefits.
Not every Democrat is happy with their party’s go-it-alone approach. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who’s become something of a kingmaker in a 50-50 Senate, continues to push for bipartisan negotiations in the Senate.
But other Democrats, particularly those who have lived through years of pitched partisan battles, say the party can’t afford to wait on the GOP.
“You know we tried to do that last year. The bill came over here, was it April or May? In December, we were still trying to get it through. They won’t even support what Donald Trump wanted,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chamber’s most senior member.
Jennifer Scholtes and Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.