Rep. Al Green of Houston announced Wednesday he supports using budget reconciliation to pass COVID-19 relief.
Budget reconciliation is a congressional tool that allows lawmakers to expedite spending-related legislation by using a simple majority of 51 instead of a three-fifths majority of 60 votes, effectively ending the Senate filibuster for certain fiscal bills (there’s a separate debate to end the Senate filibuster altogether).
The legislative process has been used in the past to pass bills in times of gridlock or obstructionism. It was first used by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to cut social safety net programs, increase defense spending, and cut taxes for the rich. More recently, it was used by Democrats in 2010 to pass the Affordable Care Act and by Republicans in 2017 to issue historically large tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy.
“We cannot promote the notion that the working class can do more with less while the wealthy need do more to do more,” Green said in a statement. “It is time for us to save this country and save those who are suffering. I support the use of budget reconciliation to get critical relief to the American people as quickly as possible.”
Democrats in both the House and Senate took preliminary steps on Tuesday and Wednesday to move forward with the budget reconciliation process after negotiations between Senate Republicans and President Biden on Monday appear to have gone nowhere.
Budget reconciliation would secure the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which includes a $400 federal unemployment payments through September, a $1,400 stimulus check, and $350 billion for state, local and tribal relief. Senate Republicans are offering a much slimmer $618 billion counterproposal.
House Democrats have a comfortable majority and have already passed COVID-19 relief without relying on Republican votes or budget reconciliation. It will be much more crucial in the evenly divided Senate, where Democrats will need the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Even conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has signaled his support for budget reconciliation. In an MSNBC interview on Wednesday, Sen. Manchin said President Biden pushed him to support budget reconciliation in order to not repeat the mistakes of Democrats in 2009 when they maintained a Senate supermajority and still sought a deal with Republicans on financial crisis relief.
“He basically said, ‘I don’t want to go down the path we went down in two-oh-nine when we negotiated for eight months and still didn’t have a product and had to do what we’re doing now.’ I said, ‘fine, Mr. President, I’m happy to start this process,” Manchin said.
Still, Manchin has warned that he will only sign off on issues relating directly to pandemic relief, unlike incoming Budget Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders and other congressional progressives who are pushing to include a $15 minimum wage, student debt cancelation, and a $2,000 stimulus check with budget reconciliation. As budget committee chair, Sanders will oversee the budget reconciliation process and has promised to use the legislative tool aggressively.
If Democrats use budget reconciliation or eliminate the Senate filibuster, Republicans have promised to exact vengeance and pass controversial bills, should Democrats lose their majority in the 2022 midterms. Sen. John Coryn issued a similar warning during a Senate debate on Monday, complaining that Biden was attempting to ram through a partisan plan that included a “slush fund for blue states” — the federal relief for local and state governments included in Biden’s plan that would alleviate budget pains for states like Texas, which faces a $1 billion budget shortfall.
The Senate is expected to vote on a budget resolution that is the first step towards budget reconciliation before the weekend, but they will have to endure “vote-a-rama” of amendments aimed to slow the process down.
On Thursday, Texas Democrats Chair Gilberto Hinojosa blasted Sen. Ted Cruz and Cornyn for participating in the vote-a-rama while millions of Texans are still out of work and hospitals are overwhelmed.
“We deserve leaders who will meet this moment and work hard to provide much-needed relief to the many Texans still struggling,” Hinojosa said. “Instead, Senate Republicans, including Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, are choosing to turn the Senate into a spectacle.”
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