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February 05, 2021

Health Law Weekly

House, Senate Take Steps to Move COVID Relief Package Using Budget Reconciliation

  • February 05, 2021

The House and Senate separately passed budget resolutions that pave the way for advancing President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package using the reconciliation process.

The House approved February 3 its budget resolution in a 218-212 party-line vote, with the Senate following suit February 4 by a 51-50 margin. Vice President Harris cast the tie-breaking vote.The Senate resolution added several amendments and must now go back to the House for approval, which was expected to happen as early as Friday. 

The joint budget resolution is the first step to using the reconciliation process to pass the administration's COVID-19 relief legislation. The resolution includes “reconciliation instructions” to House and Senate committees on how much funding can be spent in their jurisdiction.

Under budget reconciliation, the Senate could approve the package by a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes usually needed for most legislation.

President Biden unveiled the sweeping COVID-19 relief measure in mid-January, which,among other things, includes $1,400 in direct assistance to individuals, extends unemployment benefits scheduled to expire in March, devotes $160 billion in funding for vaccinations and testing efforts, and provides $350 billion in state and local government aid.

“Congress has a responsibility to quickly deliver immediate comprehensive relief to the American people hurting from COVID-19,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a joint statement.

Earlier in the week, a group of ten Republican senators unveiled a $618 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes $20 billion for a national vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and an additional $35 billion for the provider relief fund (with a 20% set aside for rural hospitals). The smaller-scale relief proposal does not include additional aid for state and local governments, which is a key priority for Democrats.

Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AL), Bill Cassidy (LA), Mitt Romney (UT), Rob Portman (OH), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Todd Young (IN), Jerry Moran (KS), Mike Rounds (SD), and Thom Tillis (NC) met with Biden on February 1 to discuss the proposal.

With action on the budget resolution, however, Democrats are setting the stage to move ahead with their larger relief package.