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Pelosi, Schumer Move Budget Resolution, Paving Way for COVID Relief Passage Via Reconciliation

February 1, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi address reporters at the Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer filed a joint budget resolution Monday, paving the way to enabling Democrats to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Package without a single Republican vote.

The move by Pelosi and Schumer came as Biden prepared to meet with a group of 10 Republican senators who have proposed $618 billion in coronavirus aid, about a third of the amount the president is seeking.

The Republican proposal focuses on the pandemic’s health effects, tapping into bipartisan urgency to shore up the nation’s vaccine distribution and vastly expanding virus testing with $160 billion in aid.

That’s the same as Biden’s proposed total, while their slimmed down $1,000 direct payments would go to fewer households than the $1,400 Biden has proposed, and they would avoid costly assistance to states and cities that Democrats argue are just as important.

Also gone are Democratic priorities rolled into the bill such as a gradual lifting of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

While showing a willingness to engage in bipartisan talks is in line with Biden’’s desire to unify the nation, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill said Monday they want to make sure he has one “additional legislative tool” at his disposal to pass “urgently-needed … COVID relief legislation.”

Introduction of a joint budget resolution is the first step to potentially enacting a Budget Reconciliation bill, one tool available to Congress to quickly pass COVID relief legislation without bipartisan support. 

The resolution filed by Pelosi and Schumer outlines the “reconciliation instructions” for each House and Senate committee, or how much funding can be spent in their jurisdiction. 

If both the House and Senate pass identical Budget Resolutions (which do not require a Presidential signature), both chambers can begin work on the Reconciliation bill that is signed by the president. 

“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. “The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now. With this budget resolution, the Democratic Congress is paving the way for the landmark Biden-Harris coronavirus package that will crush the virus and deliver real relief to families and communities in need. We are hopeful that Republicans will work in a bipartisan manner to support assistance for their communities, but the American people cannot afford any more delays and the Congress must act to prevent more needless suffering.”

Specifically, the instructions to the relevant Congressional Committees include directions to provide:

  • Immediate relief for individuals and families throughout 2021 including $1,400 per-person and per-child direct payments, an extension of Unemployment Insurance programs through September 2021 with a $400/week federal enhancement and $350 billion in critical state, local, Tribal and territorial fiscal relief. 
  • The resolution will also provide funds to greatly increase health care coverage to Americans that have lost it through no fault of their own during the pandemic.
  • Funding to help defeat the coronavirus including through support for vaccines, testing and public health programs.  It also includes funding to help K-12 schools safely re-open and provides crucial support for the child care system.
  • Relief funds for the millions of Americans struggling to make rent and mortgage payments, as well as those experiencing homelessness. The resolution also includes funding for transit agencies deeply impacted by the pandemic and support for the use of the Defense Production Act to expand domestic production of supplies critical to beating the coronavirus.
  • Additional relief for small businesses and hard-hit industries through increased funding for EIDL Advance grants, the creation of a dedicated grant relief program for restaurants, expanded PPP assistance for nonprofits and digital media services, more funds for Save Our Stages grants to independent live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions and new community navigator technical assistance to help connect underserved communities with critical resources.
  • Funding for investments in broadband and distance learning and relief for Amtrak and the aviation sector struggling with declining revenues and volumes due to COVID-19. 
  • Funding for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund to ramp up the president’s national vaccination program and provide flexible, targeted assistance to state, local, Tribal, territorial and the District of Columbia governments, as well as those individuals hit hardest by the pandemic.
  • Support for families through programs like SNAP, WIC and Pandemic-EBT. This also includes critical funding for the food supply chain and the Agriculture Department’s lending and financial assistance programs to support farmers across the country.
  • Health care and other support to meet the needs of veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. These funds will support vaccine distribution, expanded mental health care, enhanced telehealth capabilities, extended support for veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, PPE and supplies for clinical employees, and improved supply chain management.
  • ·   Funding for the Indian Health Service, Administration for Native Americans, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and Native American housing programs to maintain essential health, education and social services and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native communities.
  • Funding to the Economic Development Administration and environmental justice grants to help low-income, minority communities who have been hardest hit by COVID.
  • Funding for critical programs to aid in the global response to and recovery from the pandemic. These instructions include funding for humanitarian assistance and Global Health programs.

According to an analysis of research from the Congressional Research Service, reconciliation bills have been passed by the Senate on a bipartisan basis 17 times in recent years, including to pass the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997.

In a related move, Rep. John Yarmouth, chair of the House Budget Committee, introduced H. Con. Res. 11, the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2021, to provide Congress with the option of using a reconciliation measure to fast-track COVID relief.

The House Budget Committee released a report outlining the resolution’s budget reconciliation framework, which sets a budgetary target of up to $1.9 trillion – the estimated cost of the American Rescue Plan – allocated across the 12 House committees that have jurisdiction over some portion of the plan. The resolution instructs these committees to report legislation consistent with these budgetary targets to the Budget Committee by February 16.

“The future of American families and our nation’s economy hinges on Congress delivering the aggressive relief and vital lifelines laid out in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan,” Yarmuth said. 

“We are in the depths of the pandemic, and until we defeat this virus our economy cannot recover,” he continued. “Bold action is needed now, and while reconciliation does not preclude a bipartisan package, it does ensure Congress can meet the needs of the American people whether Republicans want to help or not. We will act expeditiously, using whatever parliamentary procedures necessary, to save lives and our economy.”

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