Congress on Wednesday took another step to advance President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, with the House of Representatives voting 218-212 in favor of approving a budget resolution that would allow Democrats to pass the relief bill without Republican support.
Two House Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure.
Hours before the House vote took place, President Biden met with a group of key Senate Democrats Wednesday to discuss their own plans moving forward.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris sat down with the incoming heads of committees that will be directly involved with the budget reconciliation process – which would allow the Senate to pass the measure with 51 votes instead of 60, not requiring Republican support. Once the Senate passes the budget resolution later this week, Democrats can begin drafting a bill that reflects the president's framework.
"Look, we got a lot of people hurting in our country today,” Biden said. “We need to act. We need to act fast. We need to restore the soul of the country."
The group consisted of:
- Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
- Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown (Banking)
- Washington's Sen. Maria Cantwell (Commerce)
- President Pro Tempore Sen. Patrick Leahy (Appropriations)
- New Jersey's Sen. Bob Menendez (Foreign Relations)
- Michigan's Sen. Gary Peters (Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs)
- Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders (Budget)
- Hawaii's Brian Schatz (Indian Affairs)
- Michigan's Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Agriculture)
- Montana's Sen. Jon Tester (Veterans' Affairs)
- Oregon's Sen. Ron Wyden (Finance)
He welcomed the Senators "home" to the White House, and predicted that Democrats would hold on to it in the next election: "With the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors and the crick not rising, it's going to be longer than just four years."
Biden also joined the House Democratic Caucus weekly call earlier Wednesday to discuss the plan.
"We can't walk away from an additional $1,400 in direct checks, because people need it," Biden said. "We can better target the number, I'm okay with that. I'm not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to people."
Delaware's Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper met with Biden for an hour earlier on Wednesday, where they discussed, among other things, COVID-19 relief, according to the pool.
Sen. Coons said that Biden is "relentlessly focused on delivering the relief that Americans need," per the pool, and relief will come in "weeks not months."
On the prospect of Republican compromise, Sen. Coons said that "we did have a conversation about the direct payments and how those might be modified in a way to ensure they're targeted," but added that Biden is "not going to forget the middle class."
Biden said in the Oval Office to the group of Senate Democrats that, "I think we'll get some Republicans."
Speaking outside the White House after the meeting, Majority Leader Schumer said that they want to pass this legislation in a bipartisan way, but warned that they need to act quickly.
"We want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong," Schumer said. "We cannot dawdle, we cannot delay, we cannot dilute – because the troubles that this nation has, and the opportunities that we can bring them, are so large."
"We are united as one for a big, bold package, working with our Republican friends when we can," he added.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted along party lines (50-49) on a motion to proceed to budget resolution, a key step that kicks off the reconciliation process for the $1.9 trillion relief bill.
This motion will be followed by 50 hours of debate, after which the "vote-a-rama" process, which includes Senators voting on dozens of amendments, can begin.
In order to pass a bill through Congress, most legislation typically requires a simple majority vote in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. But Democrats drafted a budget reconciliation bill that would start the process to pass Biden’s coronavirus relief package with a simple 51-vote Senate majority — rather than the 60-vote threshold typically needed in the Senate to advance legislation.
"As we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option with a budget resolution does not foreclose other options."
Biden met with a group of ten GOP senators on Monday evening to discuss these requirements, meeting for over two hours in the Oval Office in a conversation Psaki described as "an exchange of ideas" and not a forum for Biden to "make or accept an offer."
Psaki confirmed that Biden does not think the $618 billion proposal contains sufficient funding to provide direct relief to most Americans, safely reopen schools, and ramp up the pace of vaccinations — components of a relief package that “are all a priority to the president,” Psaki said Tuesday.
“The price of the package was not determined for shock value, but to address the dual crises we're facing,” Psaki told reporters, adding: “The size of the package was determined, of course, in consultation with members on the Hill, but also based on the recommendations of economists, on health experts. And that's how we came up with that number.”
Psaki would not go into detail about the ongoing negotiations surrounding the relief package, telling reporters the administration is “not going to negotiate from here or, frankly, in public.”
Still, the administration remains optimistic that a bipartisan coronavirus relief package will be reached through the reconciliation process.
Biden’s plan calls for an additional $1.9 trillion in federal spending, which Psaki confirmed Tuesday afternoon is still the federal government’s standing target. The group of GOP senators are calling for about $618 billion in federal spending.
The two sides are far apart, with the Republican senators focused primarily on the health care crisis and smaller $1,000 direct aid to Americans, and Biden leading Democrats toward a more sweeping rescue package to shore up households, local governments and a partly shuttered economy.
The goal is to have COVID-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid expires, testing the ability of the new administration and Congress to deliver, with political risks for all sides from failure.