Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Plan Heads Toward House Vote in Days

The House Budget Committee advanced President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief legislation, setting it up to pass the lower chamber by the end of this week.

The panel combined legislation written in various House committees in recent weeks -- pulling the $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced jobless benefits, minimum wage increase, vaccine funding and other elements -- into a single bill. The vote in favor of the measure was 19-16, with no Republicans voting in favor.

The package now heads to the House Rules Committee, the final stop before it’s put on the House floor for a potential vote on Friday or over the weekend. House work might still not be done, however, if the Senate tweaks the package when that chamber takes it up.

“We have ample fiscal space to provide the resources necessary to end the pandemic, mitigate its economic damage and build a stronger and more inclusive economy in its wake,” said Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said Monday he wants his chamber to move quickly on the pandemic spending plan, although at the same time he wants changes made to the House version. Among those is a six-month extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, rather than a five-month one.

August Trouble?

“Why would you want to create yet another cliff in the middle of the August recess? Doing this in the middle of August is a prescription for trouble,” Wyden said Monday. “For me, the bottom line is getting this job done as quickly as possible,” he said, noting that some current jobless benefits expire March 14.

Senate committees are not holding any hearings or votes on the bill, so any changes would be negotiated behind closed doors and made through a floor amendment.

The Budget Committee’s Monday action is a largely perfunctory step as part of the budget reconciliation process, the legislative tool Democrats are using, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate. That allows the bill to proceed without Republican support in a Senate with a 50-50 partisan split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

Republicans were able to use Monday’s meeting to voice objections to the legislation, which they say Democrats are using as a way to pass long-standing policy goals and isn’t targeted to address Covid-19 related crises. The committee’s vote came largely along partisan lines, though one Democrat, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, voted against the bill by mistake, according to spokeswoman Kate Stotesbery. Doggett supports the rescue package, she said.

“Democrats are using the reconciliation process to move quickly because they have no interest in allowing Americans time to reflect on the policies they have proposed -- policies that will drive up the cost of living, destroy jobs, and bail out states that lock down their citizens,” Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, said in a statement.

Revisions Likely

While the Budget panel wasn’t empowered to make changes to the package, the bill will likely undergo several revisions before it becomes law. The Congressional Budget Office said on Saturday that its cost slightly exceeds the $1.889 trillion limit the House and Senate had previously set. That means lawmakers must cut $31 billion in order to use the fast-track reconciliation process. The reduction could be included as an amendment on the House or Senate floor.

The bill is also subject to review to make sure it complies with the Senate’s reconciliation rules. Among the requirements is that all elements must have a measurable effect on the budget. The most prominent provision that might not be eligible is a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, which Biden himself has acknowledged could be changed as the bill makes its way through Congress.

The Senate parliamentarian may decide in the middle of this week whether the wage provision complies with the rules.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders argues that the measure qualifies as a fiscal initiative, since the non-partisan CBO estimated it would increase budget deficits by $54 billion over 10 years. Opponents say the budget impact is “merely incidental” relative to the overall labor-market impact. The wage provision may also violate Senate rules against adding to deficits after 10 years, and therefore would require offsetting savings or revenue to qualify.

The House will have to vote again on the bill if it’s changed in the Senate. Congressional Democrats are intending to have the legislation ready for Biden’s signature prior to a March 14 deadline, when enhanced unemployment benefits enacted in December begin expiring.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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