The first stage of the Democratic drive to enact as much of Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as is possible reached a speedy conclusion on Friday. The House accepted changes in a budget resolution made in the Senate after an overnight “vote-a-rama” of quick votes on a host of amendments. Now the House and Senate’s budget committees will use the resolution to put together a reconciliation bill, in which actual legislation instead of general goals and plans are contained. This is when the hard part starts.
The current timetable is for the House to begin a two-week sprint to get a reconciliation bill done by February 22, and then send it over to the Senate (though the Senate will be doing some preliminary work of its own). The really firm deadline to get a bill onto Joe Biden’s desk is March 14, when the supplemental unemployment insurance provided for in the last COVID-19 stimulus bill will expire for millions of people.
The grunt work in the House will be undertaken by staff (as always) and by committee chairs into whose jurisdictions the elements of the Biden proposal fall. Less senior House Democrats, and presumably most Republicans, will be back home on recess. While this will be a partisan exercise, you can expect Pelosi and her deputies to be in constant touch with potential Republican supporters of this or that key provision, not to mention with Democrats considered to be shaky. It’s also the time in the process that Democrats will have to make judgements and decisions about what will and won’t pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian under the chamber’s Byrd Rule, which prohibits non-budget-germane items in reconciliation bills. That could exclude such Biden proposals as a rental eviction moratorium and perhaps a minimum wage increase.
As Roll Call explains, a lot of the heavy lifting in the House will be done in the Ways & Means Committee:
Ways and Means, with the largest piece of the package at $941 billion, is setting aside next Wednesday through Friday for what is sure to be a contentious markup, though it is possible the committee will not need all three days. Ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said lawmakers on his side will offer only “substantive” amendments and not intentionally try to drag out the markup beyond Thursday.
The tax-writing panel led by Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., has jurisdiction over the largest single component in Biden’s plan: $1,400 tax rebates to individuals earning up to $75,000 and married couples making up to $150,000.
That’s one section of Biden’s plan which is certain to be revised after the White House signaled it could live with Republicans arguments for cap full stimulus check eligibility to individuals earning up to $50,000 and married couples earning up to $100,000.
In any situation where a handful of Democratic House members and a single Democratic senator could throw the train off-schedule by threatening to withhold support, things could get dicey. And in part to avoid that contingency and to create the appearance of bipartisanship, Biden and congressional Democrats will try to lure a few Republicans over the line, though the odds of that happening are not great.
The bulk of congressional Republicans, of course, will continue to complain that the use of budget reconciliation is itself an intolerable token of partisanship. Perhaps they should be reminded that they didn’t feel that way when the shoe was on the other foot after Republicans won control of the White House and Congress in 2016. Even before that election, then-House Speaker Paul Ryan laid out his plans for using reconciliation, which he called “a bazooka in my pocket.” It’s a weapon available to anyone with a governing trifecta, and it’s essential when the other side won’t really cross the barricades to help out.