As early as this week, congressional leaders may decide whether they can move President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package through a bipartisan process or whether they go the way of reconciliation. A budget reconciliation would mean no Senate filibuster. The House Budget Committee is likely to move on a resolution this week as part of a backup plan. Under a reconciliation bill, all 50 Senate Democrats would need to be on board, or they would need at least a few Republican Senators. There are political calculations, are there enough Republicans Senators willing to work with the President? If reconciliation is used this early, does it mean greater future partisan gridlock with other bills by the new Administration? How long is there to make a decision? Leadership does not want to go beyond mid-March to get a relief bill to the President because current unemployment extensions run out.

On Thursday, February 4, 2021, CWLA will be joining with a broad coalition of groups calling on Congress to include state fiscal relief in the next COVIID-19 package. Look for an alert on February 4 or go to the CWLA Action Center to send a message to your member of Congress and Senate on the need for more state help.

Under the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, budget reconciliation has been used to address long-term deficit reduction but, in this century, it has been used several times to enact tax cuts that did not reduce the deficit. The most recent example was the December 2017 tax cut. The budget reconciliation means the House and Senate agree to a joint budget resolution. Specific committees are assigned instructions (Finance, HELP, Education and Labor, and Ways and Means Committees, for example). After each committee acts on those instructions, all committee parts are assembled into a single bill that cannot be filibustered. There is a limit on the number of hours of Senate debate. Under the very technical “Byrd rule” named after Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), “extraneous matters” can be struck from the final bill. That makes reconciliation tricky.

Extraneous matters include: not changing Social Security, a bill provision that does not change spending or revenue, a provision that changes spending or revenues which is merely “incidental” to the law being changed, a committee violates the instructions they were given, the committee changes something not under their jurisdiction, or it increases the deficit outside of the budget window. That last provision can be waived in an unrelated bill later in the year. Another tricky or beneficial part is that the parliamentarian rules on whether something is in violation of the Byrd rule.

The Biden $1.9 trillion relief package:

  • Increased and refundable child tax credit of $3600 per child under 6 and $3000 per child 6 through 17
  • $400 billion for a national vaccination program with $50 billion of that to expand testing.
  • Increases in the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC), including for single adults
  • $350 billion in emergency state, local and territorial funding.
  • $1400 in additional tax rebates to build on last month’s $600.
  • $20 billion for tribal governments to support pandemic response and increase access to personal protective equipment, Internet connectivity, clean water and electricity in Indian Country.
  • $170 billion in education relief that breaks out between $130 billion for school reopening, $35 billion for colleges and universities, including funding to help with tuition, and $5 billion for governors to plug education holes, including pre-k.
  • $1400 for additional individual stimulus payments building on last month’s $600.
  • Expanded unemployment that would run through September and increase the supplement from the current $300 to $400.
  • $25 billion for rental assistance and assistance to small landlords, $5 billion for emergency energy and utilities costs.
  • Additional increases to SNAP and the WIC programs, including $1 billion in nutritional assistance for the territories.
  • $20 billion for transit aid.
  • $35 billion in government funding to leverage $175 billion in small business loans.
  • $1 billion in additional TANF funding.
  • $25 billion in a child care stabilization fund and an additional $10 billion to expand access and a short-term increase in the child care tax credit.
  • $4 billion for behavioral health funding
  • An increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Expansions of the child tax credit and the EITC.