Democrats are moving ahead without Republicans on Covid relief
Posted February 2, 2021 8:30 a.m. EST
CNN — Democrats are moving now to fast-track a Covid relief package.
If Republicans want to come along, great. Democrats are arguing Republicans can vote for budget reconciliation. If Republicans don't like the plan, they can keep talking to the White House, but the underlying takeaway from the meeting on Monday night -- and all the messages from the White House in the days before that -- is the President is only willing to negotiate so much. Republicans' $618 billion proposal with no state and local funding is not going to cut it. Period.
Bottom line: President Joe Biden has the House. Biden has the Senate. He has a procedural process that gives him the chance that pass a $1.9 trillion relief package with just Democratic votes and conveniently, it's a process that Republicans used just four years ago to jam through a tax plan and try to repeal Obamacare.
Democrats are making a two-pronged calculation
They aren't doing anything Republicans haven't done. Their plan is going to be popular with voters and no one is going to care how they got there.
We will see on the second point, but when you are talking about giving people direct checks, expanding unemployment insurance, giving people more money to buy food and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, you aren't talking about unpopular ideas. Democratic aides tell CNN over and over again this isn't repealing Obamacare. They are giving people something, not taking something away, and that's emboldened members to act swiftly and decisively and not give in to talk that they have to unify the country by bringing Republicans onboard with a plan.
That doesn't mean that the impact this could have on the debt and deficit isn't real. That doesn't mean that Republicans aren't going to argue that this plan isn't needed. It's true that there are still billions from the last package that haven't gone out the door. Many Republicans argue it's irresponsible to spend more when you don't even know what you need. Those are arguments they can make to the public. But, Democrats are feeling confident that they can win that public fight.
A bit on the mechanics
One Democratic aide familiar with the Senate's process told CNN that the plan is for the House and Senate committees to work in coordination over the next week and a half to hammer out legislative text. Throughout the drafting, Democrats in the Senate will be consulting with the Senate parliamentarian to make sure their plans are actually allowed under the rules that govern reconciliation. The House will vote to pass the plan first. Then, the Senate will move.
Before the Senate goes to the floor, they will engage in multiple meetings with Senate Republican staff and the Senate parliamentarian on the merits of each provision they want included and whether the provisions meets the strict rules of what can be allowed through reconciliation. The fight over the minimum wage is expected to be a massive one here, but there will be others as well. This process happens in private over several meetings, but it's crucial to determining the scope of what Democrats can do.
The goal is to be finished and have the bill signed into law by March 14, this Senate aide tells CNN. That gives some time for lawmakers to pass this before unemployment benefits run out at the end of March.
It's a massive undertaking, but Democrats aren't working from scratch here. They are going to be taking Biden's $1.9 trillion plan and making it a bill. A lot of the work has already been done on the front end to make sure every committee has the amount of money they need to make this plan a reality. The House and Senate budgets gave 12 and 11 committees respectively reconciliation instructions. That is a lot. It's going to be messy. Aides say they are very clear about what they have to do here, and they are confident this can be done swiftly.
Still, there are going to be some intra-party schisms on how this bill ultimately looks. Not all Democrats are comfortable with raising the minimum wage to $15, for example. In New York, that amount might make sense. In Montana and West Virginia -- where the cost of living skews much lower -- that kind of minimum wage could be the difference between a business staying profitable and not. That's why you have some Democrats arguing any minimum wage increase should be regional, while others are arguing that it should be phased in.
A reminder: The twists and turns of reconciliation are going to be countless. This process is complicated, cumbersome and will force Democrats to walk through a tricky negotiation and stay together in a way they haven't had to do in recent years. Add on top of it the fact that Biden has pledged to keep talking to Republicans throughout this process and the reality that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can't lose a single member of his caucus and it's fair to say that Democrats have to operate darn near flawlessly to pull this entire thing off by mid March. Passing the budget resolution is the easy part. Getting everyone to the other side of this process without a massive internal backlash? That's a lot harder.
On power sharing: Why Democrats are still not in control of committees
The organizing resolution hasn't been passed yet.
That's the same organizing resolution that was held up for more than a week over a disagreement about whether or not Democrats had to promise in writing that they wouldn't blow up the filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was done holding up that process after two Democratic senators said on the record that they had no plans to vote to eliminate the filibuster anytime soon.
But, the talks have dragged on. They've been productive. They are close to an agreement, but they have dragged on among staff. The initial fight over the filibuster delayed important talks over other procedural and weedy negotiations. The hope and expectation was that the agreement would look very similar to the power sharing agreement of 2001, but that 2001 agreement only lasted a few months and there are some operational changes that had to be made. It's taking time, maybe even longer than it should, but aides say they are close. It could be finished as soon as Tuesday.
The issue is now we are seeing some real effects of what that means for the way the Senate is run. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is technically still the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Monday night he would not allow a hearing to go forward on Biden's Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland on February 8 because he argued those confirmation hearings for attorney general are typically two days. The Senate impeachment trial starts on February 9. Again, aides say party leaders are close. We will see if this gets buttoned up Tuesday.
Keep an eye on Republicans
The Republican civil war continues on Tuesday morning.
We are watching to see if House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy finally meets with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Tuesday evening and whether he kicks her off of her committees or waits for House Democrats to make that move.
House Democrats have a Rules Committee meeting scheduled on a resolution to remove her from Budget and Education on Wednesday. A reminder that just because they pass the resolution out of the Rules panel doesn't mean it has to go to the floor. It's designed to be a fail safe to force McCarthy to act.
House Democrats will have a conference call at 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday where this issue could come up. There is some growing concern that forcing Greene off committees through a floor vote could set a dangerous precedent for the future if Republicans take back the House and then use the move to oust Democrats they don't like from their committee assignments. Usually, this is a call leadership makes. Giving the full House a vote is extremely unusual.
Also on tap for Wednesday is the GOP conference meeting, which is expected to happen in person and will likely be a forum where House Republicans can finally discuss the future of Rep. Liz Cheney. Aides tell CNN that Cheney has been making calls and listening to members of her conference for several weeks since she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection on January 6. The juxtaposition here is stark. Republicans calling to oust a member of their leadership for voting on impeachment while many members have remained silent about Greene's actions and words. If you wanted to know if Republicans have moved on from Trump the only evidence you need is that dichotomy. The short answer: they have not.