Thin Majorities Leave Democrats With Perilous Path to Pass Their COVID Relief Bill
Should Democrats try to pass their COVID reconciliation bill on a partisan basis?
by Causes | 2.23.21
What’s the story?
- Democrats are pushing for the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus (COVID-19) relief bill through the reconciliation process, which will allow them to pass the proposal on a party-line basis ― but they have little margin for error in the House and can’t afford a single defection in the Senate.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) caucus currently holds a 221-211 majority, which means that without Republican support they can only lose four Democratic votes for a bill to pass with a majority (tie votes fail in the House). In the upper chamber, Democrats hold an even thinner majority, given the 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote.
- Those dynamics mean that Democrats in leadership will need the final version of the reconciliation bill to satisfy both the moderate and progressive wings of the party in both chambers of Congress, lest objections from either pole of the Democratic caucus imperil its passage. The COVID-19 reconciliation bill represents the first major test of Democrats’ ability to maintain unity and put forward a package with universal appeal to the disparate wings of their party.
- Moderate Democrats have called for the process to be bipartisan like the COVID relief bills enacted in 2020 were and for funding to be targeted, while progressives and democratic socialists have lobbied for a larger package. Here’s an overview of some of the key lawmakers to watch as the bill moves through each chamber.
- Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has expressed opposition to Democrats effort to use reconciliation to raise the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, arguing that level is too high for much of the country and that the provision likely violates the Senate’s Byrd rule, which prohibits the use of reconciliation for extraneous provisions that have an incidental budgetary impact.
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has expressed similar skepticism about that provision of the package and told Politico that she will not vote to overrule the Senate parliamentarian if the minimum wage hike is deemed a violation of the Byrd rule.
- Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has argued that the minimum wage hike complies with reconciliation rules, and he has worked with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in an effort to ensure it is cleared by the parliamentarian, but even President Joe Biden has acknowledged that effort is unlikely to succeed.
- Potential Democratic divisions in the House will be of note not only during the initial vote on the relief bill this week, but again in a few weeks when the House votes on the package for a final time if the initial version of the bill is amended by the Senate; particularly if the minimum wage hike to $15 is removed as some are anticipating.
- The House Democratic Caucus includes 18 members of the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats, many of whom are among the 28 Democratic members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC). In particular, five Democratic members of the PSC voted against Pelosi when she was re-elected as speaker: Reps. Jared Golden (D-ME), Conor Lamb (D-PA), Mikie Sherill (D-NJ), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA).
- The so-called “squad” of progressive Democratic lawmakers that featured Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) in the last Congress has gained voting power in both relative and absolute terms in the new Congress, due to the smaller majority and influx of new progressive lawmakers into Congress.
- They have been joined by first term Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY). Bowman and Bush became the fourth and fifth members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) currently serving in Congress, joining Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and 13-term Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL).
— Eric Revell
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