Senators began debating the Biden administration’s Covid-19 relief legislation on Tuesday, as Democrats positioned themselves to pass the bill with a simple majority.
WASHINGTON (CN) — The process of budget reconciliation began Tuesday evening in the Senate, as lawmakers began to debate the Biden’s administration’s nearly $2 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.
Lawmakers narrowly agreed to proceed to debate on the relief legislation by a 50-49 vote, and 50 hours for senators to voice their concern with or approval of the bill. That vote directly followed the confirmation of two of President Joe Biden’s cabinet picks: Alejandro Mayorkas as the Department of Homeland Security secretary and Pete Buttigieg as the Transportation Department secretary.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who spoke as the head Republican in opposition of the bill Tuesday, said Republicans are excluded from altering the Democrats’ proposal since they decided to push the legislation through using a process called budget reconciliation. That process requires only a simple majority vote of 51 members, when typically there is a 60-vote requirement to pass legislation.
“You’ve got one party control of Washington and they’re seizing the moment,” Graham said.
Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who pointed out that the country is enduring the worst public health crisis in 100 years, spoke in boisterous support of sending Americans more economic relief.
Outlining that the plan included a bump in the national minimum wage and other essential provisions, he noted Republicans had not raised process objections while their colleagues passed trillions of dollars in tax cuts using the budget reconciliation process.
“In fact, Republicans used the reconciliation process to provide trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the top one percent and large profitable corporations by a simple majority vote,” Sanders said. “The only people who voted for that bill were Republicans. No bipartisanship in that bill.”
Sanders also lauded how the relief plan would bolster vaccine distribution funds and ensure all Americans have the financial resources they need “to live with dignity.”
“Passing this budget resolution will give us the tools we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour, expand unemployment benefits, expand the child tax credit and prevent evictions, homelessness and hunger,” Sanders said. “Passing this budget resolution means that during this ranging pandemic we will be able to provide healthcare to millions of Americans who are uninsured and underinsured by expanding Medicaid and improving the Affordable Care Act and other approaches.”
A group of 10 Republican senators pitched the president a less ambitious $618 billion relief bill Monday evening at the White House, where they met for a few hours. A news release from the White House after that meeting notes Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “had a substantive and productive discussion” with Republicans but reiterated that Congress “must respond boldly and urgently,” to the Covid-19 crisis.
It was clear as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed the Senate Tuesday night Democrats would proceed to an eventual vote on the $1.9 trillion package with or without the support from their colleagues from across the aisle. He said that Americans are in an extremely difficult situation and lawmakers cannot afford to “dither, delay or dilute” and must pass a bold form of relief.
“We hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in offering amendments and of course as you know, as the reconciliation process moves forward, it is open to amendments and suggestions,” he said. “So, we want it to be a bipartisan proposal, but we also know that we must move forward with the crisis in America.”
Retiring Ohio Senator Rob Portman lamented additional spending, saying while he felt there might be need for more funds in the interim time between now and when Covid-19 vaccines were more-readily available, he was concerned – like most Republicans – about provisions in the bill unrelated to Covid-19.
“But even if they could pass it, by the barest majority given that it’s a 50-50 Senate, it’s not the right way to go for our country,” Portman said. “I don’t think anybody truly believes it’s the best thing for our country. Again, if we can’t come together as Republicans and Democrats as we’ve proven that we can time and time again over the last year, what can we come together on?”