Democrats Ready to Go It Alone on Covid Relief Bill

Democrats Ready to Go It Alone on Covid Relief Bill

Democrats are moving ahead with a version of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief and stimulus package that could pass without Republican support. Initial votes in the House and the Senate could occur as early as next week, The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Jeff Stein reported Monday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden wants lawmakers to act quickly. “There’s urgency to the American people for this package to move forward, because we are going to hit a cliff” in March, she said. “We’re going to hit a point where we won’t have enough funding for vaccine distribution,” she added.

After emphasizing last week the importance of bipartisan cooperation, Psaki sounded more open to the idea of passing a bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to bypass the filibuster and proceed with a simple majority in the Senate. “Reconciliation is a means of getting a bill passed. There are a number of means of getting bills passed. That does not mean, regardless of how the bill is passed, that Democrats and Republicans cannot both vote for it,” Psaki said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that he hopes to pass another Covid relief bill to meet the March deadline, suggesting that he, too, is on board with using reconciliation. “We’ll try to get that passed in the next month, month and a half,” Schumer reportedly said on a call, referring to Biden’s pandemic aid package. Winning 50 votes in the Senate could be an issue, however, since some moderate Democrats have expressed concerns about Biden’s proposal.

Bipartisan meeting goes nowhere: A bipartisan group of senators spoke with White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese on Sunday about Biden’s proposal, but reports indicate that the meeting did little to convince the lawmakers to support the package, dealing a blow to the administration’s effort to reach bipartisan consensus on the issue.  

The 16 senators on the call, which also included Biden’s coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients, reportedly expressed support for the administration’s effort to provide more funding for vaccinations, but there was resistance to the idea that households should receive more direct aid. Among other things, the bill would provide an additional direct payment of $1,400 to millions of Americans. Questioning the need for families earning six-figure incomes to receive aid, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the program should be more targeted.

Senators also questioned the inclusion of a minimum wage hike and billions of dollars for schools in the bill. And there were concerns about money left unspent from previous relief bills. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions, most notably, how did the administration come up with $1.9 trillion dollars required, given that our figures show that there’s still about $1.8 trillion left to be spent,” Collins said. “We hope to get more data documenting the need from them.”

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who was on the call with Deese, said he wanted to focus on fighting the coronavirus. “It’s important that we don’t borrow trillions of dollars from the Chinese for things that may not be absolutely necessary,” Romney said.

Back to the drawing board? Collins made it clear that Biden’s proposal is unlikely to gain her support in its current form. “I’m going to suggest that we get together and talk about what we think would be a reasonable package, and one that could garner bipartisan support,” Collins told Politico. “The administration clearly is very eager to move very quickly. And we want to make sure that there is justification, especially since there's so much money remaining from the previous packages.”

It’s not clear, however, if Biden is willing to shrink the bill to gain Republican support. Democrats in Congress appear to have moved beyond the issue, making preparations to proceed without any Republican input or support.