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House passes budget resolution, paving way for Biden's COVID-19 relief plan

The House on Friday approved the Senate-amended budget resolution, setting in place the process to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan without the need for GOP support.

The bill passed 219-209. 

Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) was the only Democrat to join every Republican in voting against the measure. Golden cited a preference for passing a standalone vaccine bill immediately instead of embarking on the lengthier reconciliation process.

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“Our work to crush the coronavirus and deliver relief to the American people is urgent and of the highest priority,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNew Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat Greene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust Overnight Health Care: Biden pleads for more people to get vaccinated | Harris highlights COVID-19 vaccination safety | Novavax COVID-19 vaccine shown highly effective in trial MORE (D-Calif.) said in a letter to Democrats ahead of the vote. “With this budget resolution, we have taken a giant step to save lives and livelihoods.”

The budget resolution’s adoption kicks off a process called reconciliation, which can pass the Senate with a simple majority, bypassing a possible GOP filibuster. The resolution includes instructions for Congress’s authorizing committees to write legislation that will affect federal finances. 

Those instructions followed the contours of Biden’s proposal, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks, extended emergency unemployment benefits, funds for vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing, aid to state and local governments and increases to child tax credits and earned income tax credits, among other things.

Speaking outside the White House after a meeting with Biden, Pelosi said she hopes the House can pass something within the next two weeks.

The budget resolution arrived fresh from the Senate, which spent a marathon, overnight session considering amendments to the original proposal. The House had approved an earlier version of the measure on Wednesday.

The final version, which passed at 5:30 a.m. following 15 hours of debate and voting, included some strong signals from centrist Democrats that they expect changes to the proposal.

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Democrats are relying on party unanimity and Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote to pass legislation in the 50-50 Senate — any one Democratic "no" vote could sink a relief bill.

The Senate approved amendments calling for stimulus checks to be more narrowly targeted and for funds to be set aside for rural hospitals. The amendments were largely nonbinding, but served to signal where Congress stood on some key issues.

More controversial amendments relating to fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline and whether stimulus checks would go to undocumented immigrants were stripped out in a final amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerIn Congress, what goes on behind closed doors? Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas America needs a stable Israeli government MORE (D-N.Y.). 

Democrats said they supported restricting stimulus checks from undocumented immigrants, but argued that the language in the amendment would prevent children of citizens and undocumented immigrants from receiving the benefit, which would be a change from the previous round of relief.

Biden has signaled that he prefers that the bill pass with bipartisan support, but is willing to move ahead with Democrats alone, or with just a handful of GOP votes that fall short of the 10 he’d need to pass legislation in regular order.

“I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans … but they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go,” Biden said Friday in prepared remarks after a meeting with House Democratic leaders.

“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice,” he added. “I’m going to help the American people that are hurting now.”

On Monday, the president spent two hours meeting with 10 GOP Senators over their $618 billion counterproposal for COVID-19 relief.

Biden has consistently made the case that overshooting with the size of the relief bill is preferable to undershooting, a lesson he says was learned the hard way with the Obama stimulus bill during the Great Recession, which many economists say was too small.

“One thing we learned is, you know, we can't do too much here; we can do too little. We can do too little and sputter,” he said earlier Friday.

Democrats will also have to contend with strict budgetary rules in the Senate that could endanger significant aspects of their relief proposal, most notably the plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Politics of discontent: Who will move to the center and win back Americans' trust? MORE (I-Vt.) allowed a GOP amendment on the subject to pass by voice vote. The amendment, he said, only restricted the minimum wage rising to $15 during a pandemic, which was not part of the gradual increase proposed in the bill anyway.

—Updated at 3:27 p.m.