WASHINGTON — The Senate voted along party lines Tuesday to start debate on its budget blueprint for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, beginning a process that could allow Democrats to fast-track a bill without Republican support.
A simple majority vote was necessary to proceed to the budget resolution. All 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for it, while 49 Republicans voted against it. The motion’s adoption kicks off the required 50-hour clock for debate, followed by the infamous “vote-a-rama” process that can include dozens of amendments, late into the evening.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted against the resolution. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for it, though he said he still hoped lawmakers could achieve a bipartisan solution.
“But as these negotiations continue and with time of the essence, I feel it’s important to prepare for all outcomes, including the possibility that there are not 10 Republican votes for legislation that sufficiently addresses the needs of the American people,” King said.
In a statement Tuesday, a key centrist Democrat made clear he’d vote to move the budget plan forward. But West Virginia’s Joe Manchin also served notice that “our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by the pandemic.”
Manchin’s words, which he said he also shared with President Joe Biden, were a warning to Democrats not to load up the package with unrelated measures. He said he opposes a provision of the plan, and a key priority for incoming Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, that would raise the hourly federal minimum wage to $15. He supported an increase to $11.
“I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic,” Manchin said.
The House is voting on its virtually identical blueprint on Wednesday, though the chamber will have to vote again on final adoption, possibly this weekend, of the joint budget resolution after additions made by the Senate.
The Senate budget plan includes reconciliation instructions to 11 authorizing committees to write their portions of a bill based on Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package.
But it’s also apparent that Democrats want to go beyond the outlines of the pandemic rescue plan proposed by Biden. A release from Sanders, I-Vt., mentions action on shoring up multiemployer pension plans as being potentially part of the legislation, for example, in addition to raising the minimum wage, increasing unemployment benefits and other provisions proposed by Biden. But Manchin’s position would call into question at least the minimum wage proposal.
Once both chambers have acted on the budget resolution, the process of writing the reconciliation bill can begin. That measure will only require a simple majority to pass the Senate, rather than the usual 60 votes needed to end debate. In recent years, reconciliation has been a partisan maneuver employed when the same party controlled Congress and the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, urged Republicans to participate in passing a pandemic relief bill, saying “we welcome your ideas, your input, your revisions.”
“There is nothing about the process of a budget resolution or reconciliation, for that matter, that forecloses the possibility of bipartisanship,” he said.
Sanders drew a contrast to successful GOP efforts in the past to cut taxes through reconciliation, including in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush and in 2017 under President Donald Trump.
“If Republicans could use reconciliation to help the wealthy and the powerful, we can use reconciliation to help Americans recover from the worst economic and public health crisis in the modern history of our country,” Sanders said in a statement.
A group of Senate Republicans including Collins have urged Democrats to work with them to write a smaller, more targeted package. But Schumer’s comments made clear Democrats are not interested in that approach.
Story by Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call. CQ-Roll Call writers Jennifer Shutt and Rachel Oswald and BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.