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Congress Paves Way For $1.9T Pandemic Relief Package

By Joshua Rosenberg · February 5, 2021, 6:05 PM EST

Congress approved a budget resolution Friday in votes led by Democrats, paving the way for a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that wouldn't require the support of Republican lawmakers. 

Congressional Democrats' votes for a budget resolution on Friday gave them the power to push President Joe Biden's pandemic relief package through without Republican support. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Voting along party lines, in which Democrats prevailed 51-50, the Senate approved a budget resolution during Friday's early hours, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote. Later, on Friday afternoon, the House passed the same budget resolution. 

The budget resolution would enable Democrats to invoke a parliamentary strategy known as reconciliation, which would allow them to bypass the filibuster in the Senate, thereby negating the need to solicit Republican support for the $1.9 trillion relief proposal President Joe Biden has promoted. The House approved the resolution 219-209, almost completely along party lines. 

"On Monday, we will begin working on the specifics of the bills," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Friday before the House voted. "Hopefully in a two-week period of time, we'll send something over to the Senate."

The two-week time frame, which Pelosi outlined while speaking from the White House, would be well before a March 14 deadline, when certain unemployment aids that Congress approved in December would expire. 

Now that both chambers have passed the budget resolution, the House committees identified in the resolution may work to advance the actual reconciliation legislative language, which they would then send to the Senate. 

Among its provisions to combat the pandemic, the Biden proposal would extend federal unemployment benefits and halt foreclosure on federally backed mortgages until September. His plan would also extend paid emergency sick leave, which is funded through an employer tax credit program.

Biden also proposed a one-year expansion of refundable child care tax credits so families could get a reimbursement of half the cost for children up to age 13. He similarly proposed a credit of up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two or more children, but the benefit would phase out for families making $125,000 to $400,000 annually.

For his part, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., previously told Law360 that he plans to advance his committee's portion of the relief bill by the week of Feb. 8. He reiterated that position on Friday. 

Republicans were quick to criticize Democrats for pursuing a legislative pathway that, they said, would block them from contributing to the process. 

"After all the talk of unity, President Biden and congressional Democrats took the partisan route right out of the gate," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who had previously served as chairman of the Finance Committee, said Friday. "Rather than work with Republicans on a consensus COVID relief package, as we did five separate times last year, their first order of legislative business was to use a time-consuming budget tactic to force their priorities through along party lines."

But Democrats pursuing reconciliation does not, by itself, eliminate other avenues by which lawmakers may pass legislation, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

"At several points in this process, as we look to the weeks ahead, Republicans can engage and see their ideas adopted," Psaki said Tuesday. "At any point in the process, a bipartisan bill can pass on the floor. So just creating the option for reconciliation with a budget resolution does not foreclose other legislative options."

--Additional reporting by Stephen Cooper. Editing by Leah Bennett.

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