US: The Senate is at the center of one of its longest – and most interestingly nominated – processes: the ‘vote-a-Rama’ for a budget resolution.
This has happened over the past decade or so several times; this time, it’s part of the Democrats’ effort to pass President Joe Biden‘s $ 1.9 billion Covid stimulus plan or push Republicans into a more conciliatory position for a two-part strategy.
As the name suggests, this effort involves many consecutive votes on the floor. The next important step in advancing a budget reconciliation bill will enable Democrats to approve their version of the Covid-19 relief unilaterally. Most bills usually require 60 votes to grow in the Senate, but budget bills need only 51. Using budget reconciliation to pass the Covid-19 relief would allow Democrats to move everything from $ 1400 stimulus checks to improved weekly unemployment insurance payments handy even if Republicans do not sign up.
Although there is still a bipartisan agreement on Covid-19 aid, the Democrats went ahead and began the reconciliation process. IDP legislators may stand firm and refuse to support an ambitious package.
Before the Democrats can write this bill, however, the Senate and House must approve a budget resolution. The vote is an opportunity for every senator to introduce amendments to this measure. The resolution effectively serves as an outline of what the final bill might look like.
During the vote-a-Rama, which began Thursday afternoon, each amendment gets about 10 minutes of floor consideration, followed by a quick vote. Just like the budget resolution itself, amendments can pass by a simple majority or 51 votes.
Any budget-related amendment can be considered as part of this process. And because of this flexibility, legislators have introduced amendments that serve the spectrum, from tackling remote-taxed tax policies to funding schools. In one case, an amendment would make sense. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) bar ‘higher-income taxpayers’ from receiving stimulus payments.
Republicans, in particular, are using this opportunity to deliver messages: one of their amendments, for example, focuses on preventing stimulus investigations into undocumented immigrants – something that has already been the case in previous Covid-19 aid packages. But by holding a vote on this issue and others, Republicans aim to get their Democratic counterparts on their record.
Because of how many amendments it entails, vote-a-ramas can take a long time: in 2013, lawmakers were up to 5 hours in the Senate. And in 2008, the Senate considered a total of 44 amendments. This time, about 700 amendments were submitted (though not everyone will eventually vote).
Once the protracted vote-a-Rama is over, the way to write the Covid-19 emergency relief bill and move forward with the budget reconciliation is effectively cleared.
After legislators have amended the resolution, both chambers must take this measure so that Congress can get started writing the budget bill. Here’s what comes next in that process:
The Senate votes on the amended budget resolution: After amendments are considered, the Senate will vote to approve the budget resolution, passing by 51 votes.
The House must also approve an identical budget resolution. Both chambers of Congress must approve the budget resolution to proceed and for legislators to draft a budget reconciliation bill. Since the Democrats have House and Senate control, the lower chamber is ready to approve the Senate’s final version on Saturday.
Once both chambers approve the resolution, lawmakers can begin drafting the bill: the resolution commands House and Senate committees to draft the bill and to ensure it includes the provisions of Biden’s Covid-19 package.
Congress then votes on the final bill: This final budget bill can also pass with just 51 Senate votes, allowing Democrats to pass it unilaterally. Democrats aim to pass the legislation before a March 14 deadline, when the current enhanced unemployment benefits are expected to expire.
The policy of the budget reconciliation process briefly explained Democrats begin the budget reconciliation process while Biden is negotiating with Republicans and Democrats on the parameters of its Covid-19 assistance package.
Republican senators who want to work with Biden have proposed a $ 600 billion counter-offer – which is nowhere near what the government wants.
“Obviously, there is a big gap between $ 600 billion and $ 1.9 billion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “Clearly [Biden] thinks the package size should be closer to what he suggested as smaller.”
With reconciliation as a backdrop, the message to Republicans is: You can either negotiate something closer than we want, or we will pass it on to a party vote anyway.
Democrats in Congress and the White House say they want bilateral talks to continue. But many are also wary of negotiating months like in the Obama years and cost precious time to stimulate the economy.
Working towards a dual agreement – or at least trying – is part of Biden’s nature, but it’s good politics too. By negotiating directly with moderate Republicans, Biden is also trying to keep centrist Democrats like Sens Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Cinema (AZ) happy. Helping Senate leader Chuck Schumer keep his caucus in line could be just as important, if not more so, than finding territory with Republicans. Democrats hold their Senate control with a single vote; they have no room for error, not even by a simple majority vote.
“Every senator who is willing to act contrary to their leadership has power,” former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp told Vox.
This is the last time the budget reconciliation process will be used
back in 2017, the Republican Republicans were the ones using the budget reconciliation process quickly.
With united control of the White House and Congress, Republicans have used reconciliation twice: once in their unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Affordable Care Act. Once in their successful implementation of a $ 1.5 billion tax reduction bill that sets the tax rate. Cut from 35 percent to a reduction. Twenty-one percent, among others.
In other words, as much as Republicans grumble that Democrats are now using budget reconciliation to pass more Covid-19 relief, they themselves are well-known practitioners.
If Democrats finally use reconciliation to succeed Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan, it probably will not be the last time they use it. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already pushed it as a possible vehicle to succeed large parts of Biden’s yet-to-be-released economic recovery plan, which is likely to include an infrastructure package.
Yet, there will likely be a bunch of other items on the new president’s to-do list that cannot be passed on with budget reconciliation. Biden, for example, has already introduced an immigration bill as another top priority in its administration. He will either have to compromise on several other issues with the Republicans, otherwise, Senate Democrats could inflate the filibuster – which seems unlikely.
“If they want it to move quickly, then work with us on a two-pronged solution and then later use your political muscles with reconciliation,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) recently told Vox. ‘But at least prove the value of cooperation. If we move in the direction of reconciliation, I wonder what signal it is sending to those of us who are trying to promote solutions that may not be 100 percent solutions, but 80 percent solutions.”