Democrats signaled Monday they were ready to push through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief plan without any Republican votes by setting up votes on a budget resolution.
If both the House and Senate adopt the budget plan — which is not required to be signed by the president — congressional committees would have until Feb. 16 to come up with legislation that would implement Biden’s plan.
The resulting spinoff bill, as long as the panels met budget targets in the resolution and didn’t add extraneous provisions, would be immune to filibuster in the Senate, meaning Democrats could pass it there with only 51 votes.
With a group of 10 Senate Republicans invited to the White House late Monday to discuss their own, much smaller pandemic aid proposal, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill sought to play down the likelihood of going it alone, though.
“Democrats welcome the ideas and input of our Senate Republican colleagues. The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too narrow to pull our country out of this emergency,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor.
Still, filing the budget resolution is the first formal legislative step to enable the Democrats to muscle through a bill on their own, if they choose. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she expected the blueprint to be adopted by both the House and Senate this week.
The process of instructing committees to report back with spinoff legislation is called budget reconciliation and has been used in recent years by both Republicans and Democrats to pass big bills over the objections of the minority party.
Republicans used it in 2017, 2005, 2003 and 2001 to cut taxes, while Democrats used it in 2007 and 2010 for bills overhauling the student loan and health care systems.
The committees will spell out the specifics, but the numbers in the resolution — such as how much each panel may increase the budget deficit with its piece of the reconciliation bill — assume certain policies.
For example, Schumer and Pelosi in a joint statement said the eventual spinoff reconciliation bill will provide for another round of direct payments, with $1,400 per eligible family member. They also said the final legislation will extend pandemic-related unemployment programs, including a $400 weekly add-on benefit, through September from the current March expiration date.
It will also allow for $350 billion in aid to state, local and tribal governments, they said.
Neither the statement by Schumer and Pelosi nor an outline from the House Budget Committee of what would be in the later bill mentioned raising the minimum wage, a provision many budget experts thought would not be allowed under the reconciliation process and which House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth had suggested could wait for a second budget cycle later in the year.
There also was no instruction to the Ways and Means Committee to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, something Yarmuth told MarketWatch last week needed to be done to keep Republicans from potentially using it as political leverage against the White House as they did in 2011.
Citing Republicans doing it in 2017, Democrats plan to pass two budgets and thus have two chances to use reconciliation this year and could try to move minimum wage or debt-ceiling legislation in that.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, warned Democrats against pushing the reconciliation process too far and using it as a substitute for getting rid of the Senate’s filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to finish debate on bills.
“Chipping away at the rights of the minority may help you now, but you’re sure to regret that someday,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
The numbers in the resolution itself, which Democrats said reflected current law and should not be taken as being endorsed by them, forecasted $2.3 trillion in revenues in the current fiscal year, $6.1 trillion in spending for a budget deficit of $3.8 trillion in fiscal 2021.
The public debt, the accumulation of past and current budget deficits, would rise from $29.9 trillion in 2021 to $41.1 trillion in 2030 under the resolution.