Senate

Senate Democrats take first step toward big COVID-19 bill

Senate Democrats took a first step on Tuesday toward passing a coronavirus relief bill — with or without GOP support.

The Senate voted 50-49 to proceed to a budget resolution that greenlights passing a separate coronavirus relief bill through reconciliation, avoiding a 60-vote legislative filibuster.

The House is expected to pass its budget resolution Wednesday. The Senate will now need to go through tens of hours of debate and a marathon session known as a vote-a-rama, before they can hold a final vote on the budget resolution.

Democratic leaders voiced confidence that they would have the support from within the caucus to get started. Because Democrats have a slim majority, they need the support from all 50 members of the caucus to advance and ultimately pass the budget resolution in the face of what is shaping up to be unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans.

“The Senate must move forward today with a vote to begin debate on the budget resolution, and I’m optimistic that the motion to proceed will pass,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said earlier Tuesday.

Asked if Democrats had the 50 votes on the budget resolution, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, added: “We haven’t whipped it. But we’ve spoken to members and have a positive feeling. That’s why we’re going forward.”

The biggest question heading into Tuesday was if Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would vote to support the budget resolution. He said in a statement that he would, but warned that he wants a targeted relief bill.

“Let me be clear — and these are words I shared with President Biden — our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic. The President remains hopeful that we can have bipartisan support moving forward. I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic,” Manchin said.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with Senate Democrats, said they were continuing bipartisan negotiations but that they wanted to be prepared for the possibility that they wouldn’t be able to get the support of 10 GOP senators — the number needed to overcome a filibuster.

“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. The vote we took today does not preclude a bipartisan solution; if anything, I am hopeful that it could speed up negotiations and expedite an agreement,” King said.

President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke with Senate Democrats during their caucus lunch on Tuesday urging them to go big.

“President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly. He was very strong in emphasizing the need for a big, bold package. He said that he told Senate Republicans that the $600 billion that they proposed was way too small,” Schumer told reporters after the call.

The call came after Biden met with a group of 10 Republican senators at the White House on Monday night, with both sides agreeing to keep talking.

GOP senators are hoping they can talk Biden into supporting a smaller, bipartisan coronavirus package. But they also acknowledged that the president could go ahead if he has the votes of 50 Democrats.

“I got the impression that he was trying to be cordial and trying to let us know that he appreciated the fact that we had reached out. … To be honest it did kind of feel to me that he thought that if he could do it without Republicans he was more than willing to do so,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who took part in the White House meeting.

Tags Angus King Charles Schumer Coronavirus COVID-19 Dick Durbin Janet Yellen Joe Manchin Mike Rounds stimulus checks

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