Although leaders have not yet given the green light and negotiations with Republicans are still ongoing, aides tell CNN the process is complicated and secretive and they are now preparing in case they need to use it.
You can’t just do it, said a Democratic senator, explaining why the process has already begun.
And more directly: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told donors via Zoom on Thursday that she plans to pass the Covid bailout bill in two weeks using the budget reconciliation process, a source familiar with the subject told CNN.
While the primary goal of the Biden administration is to push a nearly $2 trillion plan through the normal Senate process with bipartisan support, chances are slim that enough Republicans will pass another massive stimulus bill just months after the Senate passed a package of more than $900 billion in December. Many Republicans have already indicated that they consider the package too expensive or even unnecessary at this stage.
We just handed over $900 billion in aid, why do we have such a big package now? Maybe in a few months, said Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine. The needs will be clear and we will have to do something important. But I don’t see it now.
For its part, the Biden administration has begun meeting with Republicans it has identified as potential backers of the package to win their support.
I’ve had a good look at his Covid proposal, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who is running for re-election in 2022, told reporters earlier this week. It was a chance for me to ask a few questions.
But behind the scenes, lawmakers recognize that time is running out and are preparing for reconciliation if necessary. The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees were not afraid to speak publicly about their plans.
The company prefers that this be done on a two-tiered basis. We haven’t made a decision to use reconciliation yet, but we are prepared to act very quickly if it turns out we can’t help ourselves, Kentucky Democratic Assemblyman John Yarmuth, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on Thursday.
A few hours later, Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Seth Meyers that NBC wanted to try to reach Republicans first, but they couldn’t wait for them to come forward.
I think we should appeal to the Republicans if they decide not to get on board, which I think they probably will…. We need to use this majority very aggressively, Sanders said. I think we need to make sure that the needs of the American people are met in this reconciliation bill, and if we pass it by 51 votes, we will pass it by 51 votes.
The first step would be for the committee to approve the funding bill, essentially opening up the process. Once that happens, Senate Democrats will be able to revise Biden’s bill to fit within a very specific framework of what is allowed by this process. The vote requires that whatever is adopted has a real impact on the budget, not just an incidental one. The procedure also requires that the proposals have no impact on social security and that the budgetary impact does not exceed 10 years if the changes are permanent. Since the process involves many steps and consultation with the Senate parliamentarian, committee staff have been working on it for weeks to make sure he or she understands the process and is prepared in case it were to be used.
There’s not much room for error here, said another Democratic aide, noting that committees should examine Biden’s proposal step by step to see what can go into reconciliation.
Republicans took advantage of the reconciliation process when they tried to repeal and replace Obamacare in the 2017 Senate. A few months later, the GOP successfully used this process to overhaul the nation’s tax code, which passed only by Republican votes.
Reconciliation talks have intensified in recent days as Democrats have grown frustrated with stalled talks over Senate organization. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hid behind it and insisted that the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, agree to maintain the filibuster for the next two years. The filibuster defends the minority party in the Senate by requiring that the legislation meet a procedural threshold of 60 votes before it passes. Schumer argued that politics has never been part of corporate decision-making, but the issue has stalled the process of creating committees and approving Biden’s appointments.
Questions remain about which parts of Biden’s Covid aid package could be funded as part of reconciliation. Some consultants noted that things like the $15 minimum wage may be difficult to meet.
CNN’s Annie Grayer contributed to this report.