WASHINGTON — House Democrats plan to push President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package through the next steps needed to pass it without Republican support in the upcoming week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has told House lawmakers to expect votes on the bill at the end of the week, possibly on the weekend, as Democrats race toward approving it in both chambers before enhanced unemployment checks expire in mid-March.
"I feel as if we've worked the staff 24/7 for a number of weeks now to make sure that we stay on schedule with the American Rescue Plan — the Biden plan," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at her weekly press briefing on Thursday.
This process is not going to be easy with the involvement of 12 House committees and 11 Senate committees, said G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former longtime staff member of the Senate Budget Committee.
"Coordinating that, making the numbers add up and not exceeding the $1.9 trillion spending, this requires a little bit of careful, careful work and oversight," he said. "At the end of the day I think they'll get there, but it's going to take a little bit longer than what people thought."
Already controversy is swirling over whether rules or politics will allow including a minimum-wage increase to $15 an hour and a House committee’s decision to end enhanced unemployment benefits a month early to pay for a union pension plan.
The plan now includes $1,400 economic impact checks, enhanced unemployment benefits of $400 a week, $20 billion for vaccines, $60 billion for testing and contract tracing, $130 billion for schools and colleges, $350 billion for state and local governments, $20 billion for transit, and funds for nutrition, child care and housing among other measures.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are guiding the plan through a complicated parliamentary process called budget reconciliation, created as a tool for Congress to cut the federal deficit but now used by both parties to avoid filibusters on major legislation.
Reconciliation rules limit the Senate to 20 hours of debate, bar any filibusters (which require 60 votes to end) and allows the budget bill to pass with 51 votes, which means all 50 Democratic caucus members — left to right — and Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie breaker.
Senate Democrats took the initial step by passing a concurrent budget resolution with instructions on spending levels to a dozen key House committees at the beginning of February, ahead of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Nine of those committees reported out their plans for spending the allotted dollar targets set by the budget resolution and last week sent those reports to the House Budget Committee. Three other committees will submit their plans this week.
On Monday afternoon, the Budget Committee, which is tasked with bundling those plans together in one bill, will meet to discuss the package and send it to the House Rules Committee, which can resolve duplications of spending by committees with overlapping jurisdictions.
Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, said that even with duplication eliminated, the spending plan exceeds the $1.9 trillion cap, but he said he expects Democrats will resolve the problem.
After the House passes its reconciliation legislation, the Senate takes it up. Schumer could then substitute a Senate version crafted by his caucus that’s similar to the House bill.
Following debate comes the "Byrd bath," a time when senators can challenge measures in the reconciliation bill on six criteria under rules created by former Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. The Senate parliamentarian makes the final call — but the Senate can overrule with 60 votes.
A much-watched ruling will be on whether the $15 minimum wage will be allowed.
If the Senate passes its own reconciliation bill, it and the House version will go to a conference committee to hammer out the differences.
Both the House and the Senate must then vote on that bill. If it passes — with the slim House and slimmer Senate Democratic majorities — it goes to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.