Senators passed (50-49) President Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan” over the weekend following a marathon “vote-a-rama” debate on amendments. The process was delayed for nearly 12 hours on Saturday as Senators deliberated changes to the unemployment benefits portion. Ultimately, a compromise was reached that pared back the weekly boost to $300 per week until September 6, up to $10,200 of which is to be excluded from taxable income for unemployed workers. Given the changes to the underlying bill, the House now needs to vote on the virus relief package again before it gets placed on the President’s desk for signature.
Capitol Hill Update
Early Saturday morning, House lawmakers passed (219-210) the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” sending it to the Senate for consideration this week. The current version of the measure will be subject to additional changes in the upper chamber after the Senate Parliamentarian ruled last week that the proposed $15 minimum wage increase would violate budget reconciliation rules. As a result of the ruling, Democrats in the Senate are going back to the drawing board with respect to this provision, exploring possible changes to the tax code to incentivize businesses to pay their workers higher wages. House leadership has targeted the week of March 8 to vote on the package again, given the fact Senators will need to make changes to the underlying bill.
Action on the reconciliation bill will turn to the Senate, which is expected to turn its attention to the measure before the end of this week. In addition, the Senate will continue to vote on the President’s nominees, with pending action expected on Monday to approve Miguel Cardona to lead the Department of Education. Later in the week the Senate is expected to approve Gov. Gina Raimondo to be the Secretary of Commerce, overcoming a hold that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) had placed over concerns about Huawei and Chinese state-run entities.
Congress will resume legislative business this week as lawmakers look to check off the Biden administration’s key first 100-day priorities. The Senate will convene first this afternoon and is expected to resume consideration of pending presidential nominees for the balance of the week. Nominations that will come up for a vote include Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to be Ambassador to the United Nations and Tom Vilsack’s nomination to be Secretary of Agriculture. Senate Committees are also scheduled to hold confirmation hearings for Biden cabinet nominees this week, including California Attorney General and former congressman Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) to be Interior Secretary, and Katherine Tai to be United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador.
After a pseduo-recess week Congress returns to really start cranking on moving the Biden administration’s key first 100 day priorities. For the Senate, this means moving nominations, starting with Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination to be Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as Tom Vilsack’s nomination to be Secretary of Agriculture, and potentially Gina Raimondo to be Commerce Secretary if Ted Cruz relents.
House Committees wrapped up their markups of reconciliation instructions on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation last week as Democratic lawmakers look to get the measure onto the floor for a vote. Members on the House Budget Committee will meet this week to combine all of the reconciliation instructions into the final $1.9 trillion virus relief bill, with floor consideration likely to occur the following week of February 22. A formal notice for the Budget panel’s forthcoming meeting has yet to be posted.
While the Democrats choose to move a partisan COVID-19 relief bill by using the reconciliation process for this bill, it remains to be seen whether the remainder of the legislation that will be considered on the floor of the Senate this congress will take the same path. While Democrats in the Senate could attempt to move an agenda on their narrow margin of a majority, the fact remains that it only takes ten Republicans, less than 1/3 of the Caucus, to move something in a bipartisan manner. And of course, getting this bipartisan effort in the Senate would also ensure a more moderated result from whatever the House passed. Whether this framework ultimately prevails – or if progressives forces continue to strive for the perfect over the good – will be a determining factor in the functionality of Congress, and President Biden’s purported goal of unifying the country.
Capitol Hill Update
Congress has formally kicked off the budget reconciliation process for additional virus relief legislation, passing a resolution that instructs 25 committees across both chambers to begin drafting the bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that House committees will mark up the $1.9 trillion relief package next week, with the goal of getting it on the floor for consideration by the week of February 15. While the lower chamber focuses on efforts to move the relief package, Senators will be engaged in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which will begin in earnest on Tuesday.