Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told his fellow Democratic senators they could be voting on a multi-year budget blueprint next week, an action that would be the first step to Democrats writing a new economic stimulus bill without Republican input.
“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,” Schumer said Tuesday at a press conference.
Adopting a budget — in this case for fiscal year 2021, which started in October under government accounting — is the first step on a long, complicated path to passing President Joe Biden’s proposed economic stimulus plan without any Republican votes if necessary.
Once the House and the Senate agree on common budget blueprint laying out spending, revenue and deficit targets, congressional committees can begin approving legislation to meet spending and tax goals set for them in the budget. The resulting reconciliation bills are immune to the filibuster in the Senate that often stops legislation, and can be passed with 51 votes, which a united Democratic caucus and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Combined with a Democratic majority in the House and Biden’s support, Democrats could be limited only by the rules governing the reconciliation process, which limit it to items that have a budget impact and that don’t increase the budget deficit in years beyond the budget window.
“We want to work with our Republican colleagues to advance this legislation in a bipartisan way. But the work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them, if we must,” Schumer said.
While Biden has put forward a $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan, some parts, like a proposed hike in the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, may not be practical under the restrictions of the budget reconciliation process. Republicans have criticized the plan as too expensive and urged waiting to see how the economy reacts to the approximately $900 billion in aid lawmakers approved in December.
Incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, said his staff is already busy writing the instructions to committees that would be included in a budget resolution.
“I think there was a consensus that if Republicans are not prepared to come on board, that’s fine. We’re not going to wait. We’re going forward, soon and aggressively,” Sanders told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.
Sanders said the instructions would include language to increase the minimum wage, an item many budget experts have said likely will run afoul of reconciliation rules and could get stripped out if challenged.