The House took the first step toward pushing Biden’s relief package through Congress without GOP support.
President Joe Biden met with Democrats on Wednesday as the House took its first step toward passing his sprawling $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through Congress without any Republican help.
The lower chamber approved a budget measure in 218-212 vote, directing a dozen committees to start drafting the pieces of Biden’s bill, including $1,400 stimulus checks, $350 billion in state and local aid and more controversial provisions, like a $15 minimum wage hike.
Biden told Democrats earlier on Wednesday that he’s open to refining key elements of his nearly $2 trillion proposal, while stressing the urgency of delivering a massive relief bill quickly to the pandemic-stricken nation.
During a call with the House Democratic Caucus, Biden said he was willing to compromise on who will be eligible for the next round stimulus checks — but remained firm on the size of the $1,400 payment, according to multiple sources on the call.
“Let’s stick together, I have your back and I hope you’ll have mine,” Biden told House Democrats in his first meeting with the group since taking office. He made an emotional case for quick action, citing the alarming rate of suicides and worsening drug addictions amid the pandemic.
The budget measure passed by the House unlocks a thorny process, known as reconciliation, that Democrats can use to avoid the legislative filibuster in the Senate and pass Biden’s pandemic aid vision with a simple majority in the upper chamber.
“Nothing in this resolution should come as a surprise,” House Budget Chair John Yarmuth said of GOP criticism that Democrats are preparing to jam through an expensive and “radical liberal wish list.”
“We cannot afford to slow down,” Yarmuth said, noting that every piece of the final coronavirus package will pull from Biden’s proposals and legislation pitched by House Democrats. “We need to hurry the hell up.”
Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, complained that, “Democrats in Washington are setting up a partisan process to have the vice president cast the decisive vote in the Senate on an array of radical policies.”
“Their plans are to try to use this pandemic to seize more government control of your life,” he said.
Nearly every Democrat voted for the package, despite lingering anxiety among some moderates that the party should move smaller relief bills as soon as possible.
Biden made clear earlier Wednesday that he would not shrink the overall size of his proposal to meet GOP demands. After a lengthy meeting Monday with GOP senators who pitched a $618 billion plan, Biden told Democrats that offer “was not even in the cards.”
The president also met with a group of Senate Democrats in the Oval Office for roughly 90 minutes as the upper chamber prepares to adopt its own budget this week.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described the meeting at the White House as “substantive” and said Democrats agreed to a “big and bold” approach.
“We want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong,” Schumer told reporters after the meeting. “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.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will be waiting to squeeze Democrats with a “host of amendments” to the budget measure during a marathon “vote-a-rama” on Thursday. That includes provisions on whether “taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants,” whether “Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses” and whether “generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open.”
Democrats are largely united behind Biden’s relief proposal, which would deliver badly needed money for vaccine distribution, small businesses and schools — in addition to raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour and creating a national paid family leave program.
But top House and Senate Democrats still face some headwinds in the party about their party-line approach, particularly from centrists who worry about pushing a divisive bill through an already divided Congress. With zero margin for error, a single Democratic senator or just a handful of House Democrats could force the party to change tactics.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — a moderate pushing for bipartisan talks rather than Democrats’ go-it-alone approach through reconciliation — said Biden has told him Democrats can’t afford to waste time by negotiating for months on end, only to ultimately pass their own package without GOP support.
“If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday. “If it’s a little smaller than that and we find a targeted need, then that’s what we’re going to do. But I want it to be bipartisan, so if they think that we’re basically going to throw all caution to the wind and just shove it down people’s throats, that’s not going to happen.”
Democrats, including Biden, have stressed that their plan has bipartisan support from Republican voters, if not GOP members of Congress.
“I think we’re leaving open the possibility of Republicans working with us but I think the bottom line is we have to deliver,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).