Senate Republicans slammed President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this week, warning the measure will not get 60 votes, as House Democrats forge ahead with a planned vote at the beginning of February.
GOP lawmakers, worried about the nation's surging deficit, say Biden's proposal is 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 upper chamber.
“I don’t think it can get 60," Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D, told Politico. "Because even the people on our side that would be inclined to want to work with the administration on something like that, that price range is going to be out of range for them. Absent some change and economic conditions, etc., I think that would be a very heavy lift.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters that while he supports some elements of the package, he believed the proposal in its entirety would be unlikely to pass.
“I suspect the whole package is a non-starter, but it’s got plenty of starters in it,” Blunt said.
Democrats could pass the bill using a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow them to circumvent the 60-vote threshold and advance the measure in the Senate using their slimmest-possible majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking any tie. The Biden administration has not ruled out the possibility, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters on Wednesday 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.
“The American people are crying out for help, crying out for action and we’ve got to respond,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “I hope we can get cooperation of our Republican colleagues and that they understand the severity of what’s facing the country. But we need all the tools that we have.”
Biden is pushing a massive plan that includes $20 billion to accelerate vaccine distribution, a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of September, a one-time $1,400 stimulus check, a temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and $350 billion in new funding for state and local governments.
The plan drew praise from top Democratic leaders, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer identifying passing it as a top legislative agenda. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that a vote could come by the first week of February.
“We will be doing our committee work all next week so that we will be completely ready to go to the floor when we come back,” Pelosi said.