Stimulus package one step closer to reality without Republican support. What’s happening now

February 5, 2021 0 By boss


What’s budget reconciliation? We’ll explain how Senate Democrats could use it to pass Biden’s relief bill, despite opposition.

Angela Lang/CNET

President Joe Biden, working with Congressional Democrats, is putting together a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package designed to loosen the grip of the pandemic on the country’s health and economy. “Only big, bold action is called for,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted Wednesday. “We’re working with President Biden and Vice President Harris to deliver more help to the American people and fast.”

To speed the passage, the Democrats are readying a powerful, little-used legislative tool to smooth the path of approval for Biden’s rescue plan, which would send a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 a person, extend unemployment insurance and boost vaccine distribution. The issue at hand is passing an ambitious bill with little or no support from Republicans. The Senate is evenly split, with Democrats retaining a tie-breaking majority. Just one objection from a Democratic senator, or a united block of opposition from Republicans could ordinarily stymie a bill.

However, there’s a not-so-secret weapon Democrats are preparing to use would bypass objections in Congress and quickly vote on more aid: budget reconciliation. Using it would make it possible to pass the stimulus bill in both the House and Senate with just a simple majority of votes. While the House has a larger Democratic majority, budget reconciliation could change the outcome of a Senate vote. Here’s how it works and what’s happening now.

What is budget reconciliation?

Budget reconciliation is a parliamentary tool Congress can use to quickly advance the passage of legislation. The reconciliation can start with the House and Senate budget committees, before the budget moves to a vote. The House and Senate are already making moves to start the reconciliation process and push through Biden’s package without Republican support, with the Senate on Tuesday approving the blueprint for the reconciliation and the House expected to do the same on Wednesday.

In the Senate specifically, budget reconciliation needs a simple majority to pass instead of the normal 60 votes required to approve spending or revenue legislation. The bill also can’t be tied up with a filibuster, where a senator can use a variety of foot-dragging tactics to block or delay a bill.

Because it can be used to pass fiscal legislation that may not have bipartisan support, the budget reconciliation process comes with strict guidelines, not only on how it can be used but on how often Congress can use it. 

First, it can be used just for legislation that changes federal spending, revenues and debt limits, like Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package. Something called the Byrd rule — named after former West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd — prevents items that don’t fit into one of those three budget categories from being included. 

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Second, the Senate can consider only one reconciliation per year for each of the budget categories: spending, revenue and debt. Because Congress didn’t adopt a budget resolution in 2020 for the 2021 budget, this year’s Congress may have two opportunities to use the tool, once now and once again in the fall when it adopts a budget to fund the government.

How budget reconciliation could get a stimulus package approved

With an evenly divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris — serving as the president and presiding officer of the Senate — can cast a tie-breaking vote if the Senate is at a standoff on a bill.

By using the budget reconciliation process, Congressional Democrats would be able to push through the parts of Biden’s American Rescue Plan that meet the requirements without Republican assistance, by having Harris break ties.

Not everything Biden wants to accomplish would meet the requirements for reconciliation. Boosting the minimum wage to $15 may fall outside the requirements. Likewise, using the process to fund reopening schools may be outside the limits of the tool.

While Biden has said he wants to work with Congressional Republicans to reach bipartisan agreements on his legislative agenda — and a group of 10 moderate Senate Republicans have proposed an alternative $600 billion rescue bill they say could win Republican support — the president may decide the fastest path to approve for his plan is through budget reconciliation.


Biden is working to get more economic aid out as quickly as possible.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How budget reconciliation has been used before

Congress has successfully used the reconciliation process just 21 times since 1980, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The most recent use of the budget reconciliation process was under former President Donald Trump, when Congress used the tool to pass the administration’s tax cuts in 2017. During the presidency of Barack Obama, Congress used the process to amend the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

For more on the next stimulus package, here’s where things stand on Biden’s proposal, what you need to know about stimulus checks, and what is happening with federal unemployment assistance.

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