President Biden has signaled that he wants to secure bipartisan support for another coronavirus relief package, but his administration is refusing to rule out unilateral action by congressional Democrats on the next round of emergency aid.
“We are not going to take any tools off the table,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday, hours after Biden’s inauguration.
Psaki hinted that Democrats could use a process known as budget reconciliation — which would allow them to circumvent the 60-vote threshold and advance the measure in the Senate using their slimmest-possible majority — to pass the $1.9 trillion stimulus measure that Biden outlined last week.
Another possibility is ending the legislative filibuster, an option that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to take off the table as part of a deal to run the 50-50 Senate. But Democrats have indicated they have little interest in protecting the filibuster, arguing that the threat of targeting it could force reluctant Republicans to compromise.
“It would be exactly the wrong way to begin,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “We need to have the kind of position of strength that will enable us to get stuff done.”
Still, Psaki said that Biden “is no stranger to the process of dealmaking,” and his “clear preference” is to strike a bipartisan deal.
Biden’s stimulus proposal includes $20 billion to accelerate vaccine distribution, a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase, an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits through the end of September, a one-time $1,400 stimulus check, a temporary expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit and $350 billion in new funding for state and local governments.
While top Democrats endorsed Biden’s stimulus proposal, a number of deficit-weary Republicans have said the aid package is too expensive, foreshadowing a looming battle between lawmakers over federal spending. On Tuesday, during Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing to be Treasury secretary, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., warned Biden’s plan “would be a colossal waste and economically harmful.”
Democrats will control the Senate by the thinnest of margins after twin victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia runoff elections last week clinched the party a 50-50 split in the upper chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote. Democrats hold a slim 222-to-211 advantage in the House.
There are limits on what legislation qualifies for reconciliation and how frequently the process can be used.