Democratic leaders plan to start pushing forward on another massive coronavirus relief bill as soon as next week — whether or not Republicans are on board.
In separate remarks on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated Democrats would move next week on a plan to deliver another round of emergency aid to American workers and businesses still reeling from the pandemic, which triggered the worst economic downturn in nearly a century.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said the narrowly divided Senate could begin to work on a "robust" aid package as early as next week. Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said the House would forge ahead with a vote on a budget resolution, a key step in a process known as budget reconciliation that would allow Democrats to pass most of Biden's proposal with their slimmest-possible majority in the Senate.
The chamber is split 50-50, but with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, Democrats have slim control.
“We want it to be bipartisan always but we can’t surrender if they’re not going to be doing that,” Pelosi told reporters during her weekly press conference. “We cannot not have it happen, we have to act.”
The bill is expected to be in line with a $1.9 trillion measure outlined by President Biden earlier this month, which includes a third $1,400 stimulus check, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits at $400 a week through September, $350 billion in funding for state and local governments and $20 billion for vaccine distribution, along with a number of other provisions.
“The Senate, as early as next week, will begin the process of considering a very strong COVID relief bill,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “We need recovery and rescue quickly. Everywhere you look alarm bells are ringing."
Although some Republican lawmakers agree that another relief package is needed to boost the economy's recovery, most have criticized the size and scope of Biden's proposal, arguing that it's too expensive and comes too soon on the heels of the $900 billion aid package that Congress passed in December.
Unless the Biden administration makes significant changes to the measure, it will almost certainly fail to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate without Democrats relying on budget reconciliation.
The Biden administration has not ruled out the possibility of using reconciliation to pass the measure, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters last week that "we are not going to take any tools off the table." Still, there are limits on what legislation qualifies for reconciliation and how frequently the process can be used — and Biden campaigned on uniting the country and ending partisan bickering.
“That would be a big mistake this early on. And I think they ought to attempt to try to do it the other way,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told Politico about the possibility that Democrats would use reconciliation to pass the relief bill.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has urged his party to not delay passing the legislation, even if they must lean on reconciliation to do so.
“We are going to use reconciliation, that is 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president, to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union." "The new Senate stands on 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote when needed."