House Democrats voted to circumvent Republicans and start passing Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package on their own

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the US Capitol on January 6. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images
  • House Democrats advanced a budget bill Wednesday without any Republican support.
  • President Joe Biden met with Democrats earlier, and they reiterated their intent to move swiftly.
  • “There’s agreement, universal agreement we must go big and bold,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said.
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House Democrats on Wednesday approved a measure to advance President Joe Biden’s $US1.9 trillion coronavirus spending package.

The vote to approve the budget resolution passed 218-212 with no Republican support. Two Democratic lawmakers opposed it.

The passage sets the stage for the Senate to take up the same piece of legislation later this week. It’s a step in the reconciliation process, a manoeuvre that opens special procedures in the Senate that allow bills to pass with a simple majority vote.

Once the pair of bills are approved, committees in each chamber can begin drafting legislation around Biden’s rescue plan. Before the vote, Democrats said it was critical to pass the resolution at a fraught moment during the pandemic with hardship on the rise and daily infection rates still at extremely high levels.

Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, the chair of the Joint Economic Committee, commended the bill and said it would “set us on a path to defeating the virus and providing urgent relief for millions of Americans.”

But Republicans assailed the measure and said it undercut Biden’s promises to govern as a bipartisan dealmaker. Most are staunchly opposed to spending $US2 trillion after lawmakers approved $US4 trillion in emergency spending last year.

Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said Democrats “apparently now need a more one-sided approach, one which is much more partisan and bends the rules to radicalize this Congress and the policies it produces.”

A group of 10 Senate Republicans unveiled a $US618 billion coronavirus relief plan earlier this week. But Democrats roundly lambasted it as insufficient to address the worsening toll of the pandemic.

Read more: Inside the 7-minute virtual workouts the Biden transition team used to stay connected as staffers prepared to demolish Trump’s policies

On Wednesday, Biden met with Democratic senators in the White House to discuss his proposed relief package. It includes provisions such as a fresh wave of $US1,400 stimulus checks, $US400 federal unemployment benefits, funds to support vaccine distribution, and aid for states and cities.

“There’s agreement, universal agreement we must go big and bold,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the meeting in the Oval Office. They doubled down on their goal to act swiftly and said they would still try to get Republican votes.

“I think we’ll get some Republicans,” Biden said.

There are signs the president is open to adjusting some components of the relief package without shrinking its large price tag. Biden told House Democrats earlier Wednesday he was willing to negotiate the threshold of stimulus checks in his plan.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, also said the administration was receptive to tightening eligibility for a third federal payment.

“Further targeting means not the size of the check — it means the income level of people who receive the check,” she said at a press conference. “That’s something that is under discussion.”

Democrats are in the early stages of drafting a plan in which only individuals earning $US50,000 and below qualify for a full $US1,400 check, along with couples making $US100,000 and under.

Still, some Democrats are urging the White House against scaling back the eligibility of Americans for a third federal payment. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, argued the relief checks served a critical role lifting many people out of poverty and helping them make ends meet.

“I understand the desire to ensure those most in need receive checks, but families who received the first two checks will be counting on a third check to pay the bills,” he said in a statement to Insider.

Democrats face significant hurdles to fashion Biden’s proposal into law. Every Democratic senator must be in favour of the package given their narrow majority in the chamber, setting up a razor-thin margin of error. They control the evenly divided Senate only because Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tiebreaking vote.

The support of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat, will be critical. In an MSNBC interview, he expressed support for the price of Biden’s rescue package.

“If it’s $US1.9 trillion, so be it. If it’s a little smaller than that and we find a targeted need, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Manchin said. “But I want it to be bipartisan. If they think we’re going to throw all caution to the wind and just shove it down people’s throats, that’s not going to happen.”