House Budget Vote Sets Stimulus on a Democrat-Only Track

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The House adopted the budget resolution that cleared the Senate early Friday, paving the way to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill in the coming weeks with only Democratic votes.

The resolution cleared the House on a 219 to 209 vote, hours after Senate Democrats called on Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote to approve it 51 to 50. The House had previously adopted the budget Wednesday and had to vote again after the Senate made mostly symbolic changes during a 15-hour amendment marathon.

Friday’s votes were part of a process to get around Republican objections in the Senate, allowing Democrats to push Biden’s plan through Congress with only Democratic votes. Biden met with House leaders Friday and signaled that he was on board with the partisan push for economic stimulus.

“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly, and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation -- or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis -- that’s an easy choice,” Biden said in remarks Friday at the White House. “I’m going to act and I’m going to act fast.”

The resolution adopted on Friday won’t go to Biden for his signature, because its main purpose is to outline a special procedure for passing fiscal legislation without needing 60 Senate votes to get around a Republican filibuster.

House Budget Vote Sets Stimulus on a Democrat-Only Track

“With this budget resolution, we have taken a giant step to save lives and livelihoods,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a letter to House Democrats. She told reporters that Friday’s action sets Congress up to pass the stimulus bill before expanded unemployment benefits expire March 14.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said he plans committee votes on the stimulus, unemployment and tax provisions next Wednesday through Friday. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House plans to vote on the final package the week of Feb. 22.

While Democrats say they’re still open to a bipartisan deal with Republicans, the chances for such an agreement are diminishing by the day. Ten Republican senators led by Susan Collins of Maine have been talking to the White House about their own $618 billion alternative plan, but Biden has said it’s far too small to meet the economic challenges.

Members of that group of senators denounced Democrats’ moves to pass a partisan package.

“We were ready and willing to work together with Democrats and the White House to get coronavirus under control, kick-start America’s economy, and ensure our kids return back to the education they deserve,” West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito said in a statement. “We offered an alternative to the president that meets our recovery needs while remaining fiscally responsible. Democrats ignored it, refusing to work across the aisle.”

Friday’s jobs report provided more ammunition for the White House argument. Private-sector payrolls barely grew in January, the Labor Department reported. While the jobless rate dipped to 6.3%, that was partly because some Americans gave up looking for work.

The majority party will face hurdles in enacting the stimulus. Democrats still need to hash out the exact details of the bill, including how to determine who’s eligible for $1,400 direct payments and whether to try to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. A hint of this debate emerged Thursday night when the Senate voted to approve non-binding amendments to the budget disapproving of checks going to “upper income” individuals, and of increasing the minimum wage during the pandemic.

The bill will also face rules challenges in the Senate where Republicans will try to remove provisions they deem non-budgetary in nature. They’ve signaled that they’ll challenge the minimum wage hike if Democrats try to include that.

Senate Democrats cannot afford to lose a single of member of their caucus on the eventual stimulus vote. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has already said he favors seeking bipartisanship and opposes the $15 minimum wage provision.

Moderate House Democrats have also expressed unease with taking a purely partisan approach to stimulus. The fiscally conservative Blue Dogs Coalition and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus have requested votes on vaccine and health funding immediately, rather than letting the budget process work out.

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