COVID relief: Democrats introduce budget resolution, kicking off fast-track process to pass relief package

Washington — Democratic leaders in Congress filed a joint budget resolution Monday that kicks off the process for passing President Biden’s sweeping coronavirus relief plan without Republican support, announcing the measure just before a group of 10 Republican senators are set to meet with the president at the White House about their own framework.

The budget resolution filed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the first step in the budget reconciliation process, which would allow Congress to swiftly approve Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus package with a simple majority. The resolution contains reconciliation instructions that lay out which congressional committees are responsible for drafting the legislation and how much they can spend. Once both the House and Senate pass the resolutions, the committees can get to work on the reconciliation bill.

“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement. “The cost of inaction is high and growing, and the time for decisive action is now.”

The instructions direct the relevant House and Senate panels to come up with language that addresses several of the key provisions in Mr. Biden’s plan, including $1,400 direct payments to individuals and an extension of the unemployment insurance program through September with a $400 per week enhancement. The legislation would also include $350 billion for state and local governments, funding to reopen schools and more money for vaccines, testing and public health programs. The budget resolution calls for federal aid to support the use of the Defense Production Act to boost manufacturing of supplies needed to combat the coronavirus, as well as money for small businesses.

Absent from a summary provided by the Democrats is a provision raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, which was in Mr. Biden’s package but criticized by Republicans. 

“The only thing we cannot accept is a package that is too small or too narrow to pull our country out of this emergency,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor. “We cannot repeat the mistake of 2009, and we must act very soon to get this assistance to those so desperately in need.”

The New York Democrat said input from Republicans is “welcome.”

“COVID relief, too, should be the work of both Democrats and Republicans,” Schumer said.

Approval of an emergency relief plan is Mr. Biden’s first legislative priority, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. While the president has stressed he wants bipartisan support for a coronavirus package, Republican senators have balked at the $1.9 trillion cost of Mr. Biden’s plan.

On Sunday, a group of 10 Republicans sent the president a letter asking to meet and discuss their own framework, which they said would have backing from both Democrats and Republicans. At $618 billion, the plan is significantly smaller than Mr. Biden’s and does not include money for state and local governments, which has been a sticking point in past negotiations on relief measures.

Nine of the Republicans met with Mr. Biden for two hours on Monday. Senator Susan Collins, the leader of the group, called the meeting “productive,” saying she believed there was still hope for a bipartisan deal. 

The White House, however, said in a readout of the meeting that Mr. Biden “will not settle for a package that fails to meet the moment.”

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