Pelosi: Dems Will Press Ahead on Covid Relief, With or Without GOP

Pelosi: Dems Will Press Ahead on Covid Relief, With or Without GOP

Reuters/Tom Brenner

Democrats are pressing ahead with preparations to pass a coronavirus relief plan without Republican support. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that the House will pass a budget resolution next week, a key step in the reconciliation process that would allow Democrats to approve another aid package without GOP votes.

Once passed by the House, the budget measure would head to the Senate, where it would likely be amended and returned to the House. Pelosi told reporters she expects that “by the end of the week we’ll be finished with the budget resolution.”

Rushing for relief or looking for leverage? Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday that his chamber would begin considering a Covid relief bill as early as next week. “Our preference is to make this important work bipartisan, to include input, ideas and revisions from our Republican colleagues,” Schumer said. “But if our Republican colleagues decide to oppose this urgent and necessary legislation, we will have to move forward without them.”

Pelosi similarly said she hopes that President Joe Biden can win Republican support for another relief package. “We have to act. And that is why I said we want it to be bipartisan, always, but we can't surrender if they're not going to be doing that,” she told reporters. Pelosi added that the preparations for reconciliation may also drive Republicans to negotiate. “I do think that we have more leverage getting cooperation on the other side if they know we have an alternative,” she said.

White House officials have been aggressively courting a wide range of lawmakers on the legislation, with a deputy press secretary describing the effort as “a full-court press to engage leaders and stakeholders in Washington,” according to Axios. But Biden’s plan has met with stiff resistance from Republicans. While some have expressed support for elements of the proposal, many in the GOP, including party moderates, have questioned the need for another package as big and broad as Biden has put forth.

Republicans warn Dems against going it alone: At the same time, moderates in both parties are still holding out hope for a bipartisan deal, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) urging Biden to continue efforts to reach an agreement and turn to reconciliation as a last resort. Some in the GOP have reportedly grown frustrated that Democrats are forging ahead with plans for the reconciliation process — and are warning that it could be a mistake.

“Republicans believe the Democratic leadership may come to regret their one-party approach,” Punchbowl News reported Thursday. “They think infighting between moderate and progressive Democrats could, in the end, prove too much, giving the GOP an opportunity to jump in and shape the final agreement.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who is part of a bipartisan group of senators engaged in discussions with the White House, told NPR Thursday that going it alone on Covid relief "would set the tone for the administration that would be really problematic for the country and frankly, bad for the Biden administration." Portman announced this week that he will not seek reelection in 2022, citing “partisan gridlock” as a reason.

White House says it’s not looking to split Covid relief package: White House officials pushed back Thursday on a Politico report that the Biden administration was looking at splitting the Covid relief package. Such a split, according to the report, would involve passing a narrower, bipartisan bill in the $600 billion to $800 billion range and then adding everything that was left out of the first bill to a planned follow-on effort that would be passed via reconciliation, meaning that a simple majority would suffice and Republican votes might not be needed.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted and told reporters at her daily briefing that the White House was not looking at that two-step plan. “The needs of the American people are urgent from putting food on the table, to getting vaccines out the door to reopening schools,” she said in her tweet. “Those aren’t partisan issues. We are engaging with a range of voices—that’s democracy in action—we aren’t looking to split a package in two.”

White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield and Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council and one of the administration officials involved in Covid aid negotiations with Congress, both also tweeted to deny the report. “The needs of the American people aren’t partial; we can’t do this piecemeal,” Deese said.