by Christy Bieber | Jan. 28, 2021
Democrats are largely on board with more stimulus relief, but are divided on the best way to do it.
President Joe Biden has made the passage of another coronavirus relief bill one of his administration's key priorities. In fact, the country's new chief executive is pushing for swift action on a $1.9 trillion plan that would provide stimulus checks valued at $1,400 as well as more aid for the unemployed.
His fellow Democrats, by and large, agree on the need for more government support for struggling Americans, although there's some division on exactly how much additional relief is necessary. What those on the left aren't necessarily united on, however, is the process by which the next coronavirus stimulus bill should come to pass.
Although most Democrats are eager to deliver on their campaign promises and provide more stimulus money, they hold just 50 seats in the U.S. Senate while Republicans hold the other 50. And because Republicans have the opportunity to use the filibuster, most legislation cannot advance without getting 60 votes in the Senate. The Democrats also have a very narrow majority in the House of Representatives.
There is, however, a process called reconciliation that makes it possible to pass budget-related laws with just 51 votes in the Senate -- with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the 51st vote. Reconciliation makes it possible for Democrats to pass another COVID-19 aid bill without any Republican support, although their hands may be tied somewhat in what such a bill can include due to something called the Byrd rule that restricts non-budgetary provisions from being included in a reconciliation bill.
Some progressives, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are eager to use the reconciliation process to get legislation passed quickly that provides meaningful aid.
Sanders, who is the Budget Committee Chairman, has made clear that he's prepared and ready to use reconciliation if Republicans stall at all on passing stimulus relief. "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders told CNN.
Elizabeth Warren also independently urged swift action, saying on MSNBC "We have to deliver as Democrats. We have to deliver because people are hurting. We have to deliver because we are in the middle of a pandemic, because we are in the middle of an economic crisis, because we are in the middle of a racial reckoning."
Warren and Sanders are some of the most vocal members of the progressive wing of the Democratic party, though. And some of the more moderate senators are taking a very different stance. In fact, Congressman Jared Golden, who is part of a 56 member bipartisan Problem Solvers Group, took to Twitter recently to argue against jumping too quickly into using reconciliation to pass a partisan bill.
"It is clear that in the House & Senate, there are members in both parties who understand the pressing need to take further action, which is why I think any talk of budget reconciliation --- a tool that won't require the parties to work together --- at this stage is off the mark," he tweeted.
His position isn't completely out of line with the Biden administration. In fact, key White House figures have indicated that the president's preference is to get bipartisan buy-in for stimulus relief. This is a priority both because Biden ran a unity campaign promising to work with the other side -- and also because there's no guarantee that Biden's stimulus plan could even get 51 votes as some Democratic Senators have expressed reservations about various aspects of the president's proposal.
These divisions over the process of passing legislation make clear the challenges facing the new administration. With the incoming president making stimulus relief a key issue, it's unclear how long those on the left will allow negotiations to drag on before finally moving forward with a partisan plan. However, they'll need to hold their caucus together and can't afford to lose any votes in the Senate or many votes in the House if they hope to succeed without help from the right.
It's worth remembering that negotiations dragged on for nine months between the CARES Act and the recent $908 billion relief bill that passed Congress in December. Getting to a deal in Washington clearly isn't easy, and even with a narrow Democratic majority, there are still challenges associated with delivering money into Americans' bank accounts.
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