One of the first critical decisions that will have to be worked out over the next several days is how President Biden will get his COVID-19 proposal through Congress. As a veteran senator who was also key to many of the Obama Administration’s congressional negotiations, he has raised hopes for bipartisan action, but that would mean getting 60 votes and at least 10 Republican senators to enact such legislation. It is unclear how long it will take to determine just how willing Senate Republicans will be in reaching a bipartisan deal. A bipartisan group of senators, Todd Young (R-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Dick Durbin (R-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) are talking about what they might be willing to support in a bipartisan fashion.
The new Administration will not have too much time to make a decision, especially when it comes to funding for reopening schools and expanding access to vaccinations. If it becomes clear that he cannot get 60 votes, then Democrats will turn to the budget reconciliation process to allow a deal to pass the Senate with only 50 votes.
Budget reconciliation, under the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, 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.
To use the budget reconciliation means the House and Senate would have to agree to a joint budget resolution that included instructions to specific committees to reconcile the budget. After each committee acts, all parts are assembled into a single bill that cannot be filibustered. There are challenges to the process because some items (for example, a minimum wage increase might not fit) because reconciliation rules require some impact on federal spending. Under previous parliamentarian rulings, there could be two reconciliations for each category of tax changes, debt ceiling increases, and spending changes.
The first one could be for a COVID-19 relief package. The Biden $1.9 trillion relief package:
- An increased and refundable child tax credit of $3600 per child under six 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.