The House is on track to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by the end of this week as Congress sprints to deliver aid to millions of Americans reeling from the pandemic and facing a jobless benefits cliff in mid-March.
But House Democrats aren’t expecting to get a single GOP vote for their aid package, which they’re taking up with the procedural maneuver known as reconciliation in order to win Senate passage without the threat of a filibuster. The House Budget Committee will meet Monday afternoon to tee up the legislation for floor passage on Friday or Saturday, with Senate action as soon as the following week.
Monday’s markup is one of the last major House steps in the reconciliation process, but the final aid package sent to the president’s desk will likely change from the House-passed bill. That’s because Senate consideration will be laden with political minefields, and major provisions in the bill — such as its minimum wage hike or paid sick leave expansion — could be stripped out or rejiggered as Democrats in the upper chamber muddle through budget restrictions during floor debate.
In short, there’s plenty of uncertainty to come before the House and Senate must ultimately resolve any differences and agree on any amendments before the measure is sent to Biden’s desk.
“We’re working as quickly and expeditiously as we possibly can,” said House Budget Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “We’ll send it over to the Senate and see what happens.”
The Budget Committee will kick off Monday’s markup with a vote to send the package to the House floor, followed by several more hours in which lawmakers can offer largely symbolic motions, air their grievances or express support for Biden’s plan.
No substantial changes to the text are expected since the Budget panel’s members can’t offer regular amendments. The panel’s meeting to assemble Biden’s plan comes after nine House committees marked up their own portions of the massive measure.
Republicans are almost certain to complain about the proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 and $350 billion for state and local aid, among other parts of the package. House GOP leaders circulated a whip notice Friday urging their members to vote against the bill, arguing that it provides “a bailout” for blue states and pays “people not to work.”
“We’re definitely going to expose how this is the wrong plan, at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons,” said Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, who predicted the panel’s markup could last up to six hours. “We’re going to point out all the different items in this legislation that are bad for the working class.”
In the Senate, committees have started meeting with an official adviser known as the parliamentarian, who will decide whether certain pieces of Biden’s plan run afoul of the so-called Byrd Rule. That rule requires policies passed through the budget reconciliation process to have a significant effect on federal spending, revenues and the debt and bars policies that would lead to debt increases beyond the next decade.
One of the biggest outstanding questions is whether Biden’s push to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009 — a proposal championed by progressives — will survive the budget restrictions.
Democratic leaders and the White House have indicated that they will make a final decision on how to proceed after the Senate parliamentarian rules on the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been tight-lipped, even with senior members of her leadership team, about the status of talks on the most contentious issues.
But Biden has signaled privately to governors that the wage hike likely isn’t happening as part of his first Covid aid measure. Progressives, like Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have insisted that the provision will survive, citing recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office as evidence.
Democrats could barrel ahead by overruling the parliamentarian if the minimum wage increase doesn’t pass muster, but Biden is leaning heavily against the idea, POLITICO reported earlier this month.
Still, the wage hike remains a top progressive demand, and liberal leaders insist the pandemic relief package is the most viable legislative vehicle this year to get it done.
“It is really important to us that it happens in this package because we think it is directly related to Covid relief,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Given the makeup of the Senate, this is our best opportunity and the right moment in the midst of this pandemic.”
The parliamentarian aside, however, the strategy has run into resistance from moderates in the Senate, with both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) declaring their opposition to including the wage hike in Biden’s final package.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized Democrats for pursuing a process that excludes their input after Congress passed five coronavirus relief bills last year, totaling nearly $4 trillion, with bipartisan support.
In a letter sent earlier this month to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the ranking Republicans from a variety of Senate committees requested that the relief package go through their panels before reaching the floor. But Democrats aren’t expected to comply with that request.
Schumer said in a letter Friday that House and Senate committees are coordinating so lawmakers can quickly move the package to Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
“If Republicans are ready to work with Democrats on constructive amendments that will improve the bill, we are ready to work,” Schumer wrote. “However, we must not allow Republican obstructionism to deter us from our mission of delivering help to Americans who desperately need this relief.”
Even if Congress passes the package before unemployment benefits expire on March 14, the relief won’t be immediate. Administrative and bureaucratic snags will delay delivery of major elements of the aid for weeks or even months.
At the state level, officials say it can’t come soon enough.
“We need the help to help our citizens get vaccinated,” Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald said Thursday during a call hosted by the advocacy group Invest in America Action.
“We’re 46th in the country when it comes to helping people get vaccinated. There’s no excuse for that,” Fitzgerald said. “We need help. We need help right now.”
Heather Caygle and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.