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Wake Up To Politics - February 2, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: All your reconciliation questions, answered
Wake Up To Politics - February 2, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, February 2, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 644 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,372 days away.

All your reconciliation questions, answered

President Joe Biden met with 10 Republican senators about coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, a two-hour negotiating session that both sides described positively.

“It was an excellent meeting,” the GOP senators said in a joint statement afterward, adding that it was “a very productive exchange of views.” In a statement of their own, the White House said that “there were areas of agreement” at the meeting, while praising the discussion as “substantive and productive.”

But will it matter? The two sides remain more than a trillion dollars apart in their stimulus proposals, with Biden pitching a $1.9 trillion package and the GOP senators pushing a $618 billion plan. Biden’s proposal includes $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $400-a-week enhanced unemployment benefits, and $350 billion in funding for state and local governments, among other provisions.

The Republican counteroffer, meanwhile, would offer $1,000 checks to a smaller portion of Americans, $300-a-week enhanced unemployment aid, and no state and local funding. (Both plans would appropriate $160 billion for direct pandemic response, including funds for testing and vaccines.)

And even as Biden professes to seek a bipartisan agreement, his party is already moving forward with a budgetary process known as “reconciliation” that would allow them to approve his package without a single Republican vote. Here are answers to some of your questions about the reconciliation process:

Q: Could you walk us through the complexities of
what budget reconciliation is? — Richard Werthamer of Sag Harbor, New York

A: The budget reconciliation process was created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 as a way to fast-track spending legislation. The tool is so powerful because, unlike most bills, measures crafted through reconciliation can’t be filibustered in the Senate. Debate on reconciliation legislation is automatically cut off after 20 hours, removing the 60-vote threshold that is normally required to end debate on a bill in the Senate. That means reconciliation bills can be approved with just 51 votes, a simple majority.

Q: How do they jumpstart the reconciliation process? — Howard Edelbaum of Brooklyn, New York

A: Democrats launched the process on Monday by introducing “the Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2021,” a resolution that provides Congress with the option of passing further legislation with reconciliation. Before moving forward with a specific package, both chambers of Congress have to pass the budget resolution to open the way for reconciliation to take place. Generally, only one of these resolutions can be passed in a fiscal year because only one budget can be passed each year; however, Congress still hasn’t passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2020, so Democrats could go through the process twice in the 2021 calendar year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have signaled that the two chambers could pass the budget resolution as early as this week, giving Democrats the option to pass a coronavirus relief package under reconciliation even as President Biden continues negotiations with Republicans. (They are hoping to have the final package approved by March 14, when the current enhanced unemployment benefits run out.)

Once the resolution is passed, the Budget Committees in both chambers begin work on finalizing the package that will be passed under reconciliation. After being approved by committee, the legislation moves to the floor; notably, in the Senate, there is no limit on how many amendments can be offered on a reconciliation bill, unlike on other pieces of legislation. That leads to a marathon session of considering amendments known as a “vote-a-rama.” Once the amendment blitz is over, the reconciliation bill can be passed with a 51-vote majority.

Q: Can everything in President Biden’s stimulus be passed by the reconciliation process, or is the reconciliation process limited to a certain set of items? — Mike Cunningham of Kansas City, Missouri

A: Here’s the catch: not everything can be passed by reconciliation. Lawmakers are limited by what’s known as the Byrd rule, so named for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). The Byrd rule, which was permanently adopted in 1990, prohibits bills from being passed by reconciliation if they don’t have a substantive impact on the budget, if they increase the federal deficit outside a 10-year window, or if they include changes to Social Security.    

Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes a lot of provisions, and it’s not immediately clear that all of them would meet the Byrd Rule requirements. Some experts, for example, have said a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour — which Biden included in his original proposal — would not comply with the requirement for reconciliation measures to have a “more than incidental” impact on the federal budget.

It is ultimately up to the Senate parliamentarian, currently Elizabeth MacDonough, to decide if a bill complies with the Byrd rule. (When the parliamentarian strips packages of non-compliant provisions, it is known as a “Byrd bath.” The excised parts of the bill are called “Byrd droppings.” Seriously.)

Technically, the Vice President can overrule any decision by the parliamentarian — but no VP has done that since Nelson Rockefeller in 1975. Some progressive Democrats, however, are urging Kamala Harris to overrule the parliamentarian if any parts of the eventual stimulus package are left in the “Byrd bath.”

Q: Can you give us a few examples of when it has been used in the past to pass major initiatives? — Laurie Emery of Santa Cruz, California

A: The Senate filibuster is a huge roadblock to most pieces of legislation, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that lawmakers of both parties have sought to use the reconciliation process to go around the 60-vote threshold. As a result, some of the biggest pieces of legislation of the most decade have been passed by reconciliation.

To name a few examples: Democrats used reconciliation to pass the final version of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in 2010. Then Republicans tried to use reconciliation to repeal Obamacare in 2017 (but weren’t able to stitch together the 51 votes in their own caucus). The GOP was successful, however, in using reconciliation to pass the 2017 tax cuts, one of former President Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievements.

The Rundown

GOP CIVIL WAR: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asserted himself on Monday in the war over the future of the Republican Party, issuing a pair of statements defending House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) and bashing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

  • McConnell told CNN that Cheney, who is under fire for her vote to impeach former President Donald Trump, “is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them.” He told The Hill that “loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” adding that Greene — who he did not name directly — “is not living in reality.”
  • The two statements go much farther than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-WY) has commented on either situation involving his own members, as some House Republicans call for Cheney’s ouster as conference chair while House Democrats urge him to strip Greene of her committee assignments.

CORONAVIRUS: The Biden administration announced Monday that it had reached a $230 million deal with Ellume, an Australian diagnostics company, to produce the first at-home, over-the-counter tests for COVID-19. The tests, which have already been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, will cost around $30 and will give results in 15 minutes with 95% accuracy.

  • There are now more people in the United States who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (26.5 million) than have tested positive for the virus (26.3 million), per Bloomberg.

WORLD: President Biden released a statement on Monday condemning a military coup in Myanmar that overthrew the country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Biden called the coup “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and threatened to institute economic sanctions in response.

  • Per Politico, Biden’s response to the situation — the first foreign policy crisis of his administration — “could affect how the new U.S. administration is viewed on the global stage in the months ahead, especially as it is presented with the broader challenge of confronting the rise of authoritarianism in countries across the globe.”

READING LIST: “The Gerrymander Battles Loom, as G.O.P. Looks to Press Its Advantage” New York Times

  • “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she’s a survivor of sexual assault while describing trauma of Capitol insurrection” CNN
  • “Biden administration eyes Rahm Emanuel for ambassadorship” NBC News

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All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:45 a.m. in the Oval Office. At 5 p.m., he will sign a suite of executive orders on immigration.

  • According to a White House fact sheet, Biden’s orders will create task forces to reunite migrant families separated by the Trump administration and review the legal immigration system, as well as an order to develop a federal strategy to address immigration and the asylum system.

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief and for the immigration signings. She will also swear in Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security at 5:30 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 1:30 p.m. in the White House briefing room.

The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. to consider the nominations of Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg and Secretary of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas.

The Senate will vote to confirm Buttigieg at 12 p.m. and Mayorkas at 2:30 p.m. In between, both parties will hold their weekly caucus lunches. Additional roll call votes, including on the budget reconciliation resolution, are possible later in the day.

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Kathleen Hicks at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Secretary of Agriculture nominee Tom Vilsack at 10:30 a.m.
  • The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will vote to advance Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Denis McDonough at 12 p.m.

The House will convene at 2 p.m. and begin consideration of H.Con.Res. 11, the budget reconciliation resolution.

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing at 11 a.m. on “solutions to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in the states,” featuring testimony from officials leading coronavirus response efforts in Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Colorado.

Former President Donald Trump has until 12 p.m. today to file a response to the House impeachment article against him. The House impeachment managers have until 10 a.m. to file their initial trial brief.

The late Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda today. An arrival ceremony will take place at 9:30 p.m., followed by a viewing period for members of the U.S. Capitol Police throughout. Sicknick was killed while attempting to protect the Capitol during the January 6 riot.

The Supreme Court is not in session.