Unemployment benefits will begin to lapse for millions of American in less than a month, putting the pressure squarely on Congress — and Democratic leaders — to usher through a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.
The next four weeks will test Democratic unity and require the party’s progressives and moderates to put aside clear philosophical differences over the scope of what is needed for the recovery right now. It will also cement a reality for President Biden: his first major push in Congress isn’t going to be a bipartisan one. Instead, a process is fully underway that will allow Democrats to pass this bill through the Senate with just 51 votes.
Bottom line: Congress is out this week, but the quiet work of pulling together the Democrats’ opening offer at Covid relief continues this week with the House on track to pass their portion of the $1.9 trillion proposal as soon as next week.
In the next few days, the House Budget Committee will put together the final bill based off of the section by sections that committees passed last week. This will ensure Democrats are in a place to be able to get the caucus on board and pass the bill as soon as next week.
The immediate obstacles: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a five-vote margin on this bill. This isn’t spring 2020, when the economy was cratering and the uncertainty of the virus was so paralyzing for the country that lawmakers came together in a matter of weeks to pass the largest stimulus bill in history with unity.
The scrutiny on this package — even by some Democrats — is more intense. That doesn’t mean that a few Republicans won’t cross the aisle and vote for it, giving Pelosi perhaps more room to move the legislation on the floor, but watch members comments over the next several days while they are home on recess to get a clue for how much a lift this is going to be for the House speaker.
The Senate problem: In the last several weeks, House Democrats haven’t been working in a vacuum as they transformed Biden’s proposal into legislative text. Senate Democratic aides from the Finance Committee have been consulting with House Ways and Means panel. The Senate’s HELP Committee has been working closely with the House Education and Labor panel. Aides have been in close contact and Democratic senators have made it clear — both through private nudging and public comments — what they need in the House bill to make it workable on their side.
Still, House and Senate Democrats aren’t in complete unity right now. The expectation is that changes to the House bill will happen in the Senate, but not in a formal committee mark up like last week in the House. Instead, the current plan for Democrats is to bring their bill — with some potential changes that have been ironed out privately — directly to the Senate floor. That could happen as the week of March 2. But, Democrats in the Senate will have two weeks to pass their bill before unemployment benefits lapse. And, if they pass a different bill than the House, the House will have to pass it again before March 14.
Read more about the House Democrats’ relief plan here.