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article imageDemocrats will use ‘Reconciliation' to get COVID-19 relief passed

By Karen Graham     Jan 24, 2021 in Politics
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Sunday that Democrats would use a rare procedural tactic to pass major parts of a Covid-19 relief package if Republicans refuse to move on the measure.
If you thought there was nothing else we could possibly learn about politics, especially after the past few months, get ready for one more lesson on a little known voting procedure used occasionally in Congress.
In order for President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill to get passed with bipartisan support, it would be necessary to achieve a 60-vote supermajority needed to pass most legislation in the Senate. While the Democrats are now the majority party in the Senate, it is only because Vice-president Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.
In order to do away with having a "supermajority" needed to pass the COVID-19 relief package, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, talking with CNN's Dana Bash on Sunday morning's State of the Union said: “We are going to use reconciliation, that is 50 votes in the Senate plus the vice president, to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now."
"What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward. We have got to act now," he said.
So what is Reconciliation?
Reconciliation is a procedure created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that allows for expedited consideration of legislation related to spending, taxing and the federal debt limit. according to Bloomberg Law.
If the Democrats don't have the 60-vote supermajority in the Senate needed to pass Biden's relief bill, there’s an alternative route: a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation, under which Democrats could use their slimmest-possible majority to pass at least parts of the bill on their own.
While the procedure may seem to be unusual, Congress has passed more than 20 budget reconciliation bills since 1980, including deficit-reduction packages during the 1980s and 1990s, welfare reform in 1996, parts of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax-cut law.
Dana Bash pointed out to Sanders that he had criticized the GOP's use of the reconciliation procedure, referring to the 2017 tax-cut legislation. At the time, Sanders had said that the process should not be used “to enact major changes in social policy.”
But on Sunday, Sanders defended his decision to use reconciliation in this case, stating that Americans’ need for stimulus aid is emergent, while Republicans in 2017 used reconciliation “to give tax breaks to billionaires.”
“Yes, I did criticize them for that. And if they want to criticize me for helping to feed children who are hungry or senior citizens in this country who are isolated and alone and don't have enough food, they can criticize me,” Sanders said.
CNN points out that there may be a couple of things in the stimulus package that may have a hard time passing a reconciliation vote.
For example, Biden's proposals to mandate that employers provide paid leave for employees during the pandemic and to ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create a new Covid-19 protection standard for frontline workers may run into a brick wall if there isn’t a direct budget connection.
The biggest issue will be raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. There is a heated debate over whether raising the federal minimum wage can be done via reconciliation.
More about covid19 relief, Bernie sanders, reconciliation procedure, simple majority vote, $19 trillion relief package
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