Senators voted Tuesday to begin debating a budget resolution, taking the first steps toward approving a final COVID relief package without any GOP support.
The 50-49 party-line vote now kicks off a weeklong process of debate and votes, which Democrats hope ends in passage.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said his party will not “dilute” or “delay” a rescue bill over GOP objections, pointing to shuttered schools and continued high unemployment claims as evidence of an immediate need.
“Time is a luxury our country does not have,” the New York Democrat said, noting President Biden told GOP lawmakers a $600 billion package they proposed was too small.
“If we did a package that small we would be mired in the COVID crisis for years and we are not, we are not going to make the mistake of 2009 and have too small of a package and took too long, took four or five years for the economy to recover,” Mr. Schumer added.
House Democrats will hold their own initial vote on the budget process later Tuesday, when they are expected to approve rules for debate later this week on the full budget.
Mr. Schmer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revealed their 2021 budget plan on Monday. It is the first step in a process that could allow them to pass President Joseph R. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill without any Republican support.
The two leaders want to have a final vote on the budget by the end of this week, before the Senate gets bogged down in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Democrats’ plan calls for another round of stimulus checks, another round of unemployment benefits, and $350 billion in bailout money for state and local governments who say they face their own budget squeeze.
Mr. Biden has also proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $15 as part of the bill. That’s a non-starter for Republicans, and even for some centrist Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“I personally support an increase in the minimum wage, not to $15, but I think we need one. But, it doesn’t belong in the COVID,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a key GOP negotiator.
Using the budget process allows Democrats to circumvent a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
This week’s moves are just the beginning. If the budget passes both chambers, congressional committees then must write bills to carry out the plan. Those committee bills are then stitched together in what’s known as a reconciliation package, which must then pass Congress and be signed by the president.
Mr. Schumer insisted there’s still a window for Republicans to cooperate, but GOP lawmakers this week said using the budget process would send the wrong signal.
Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, said the move does not show “unity” which Mr. Biden has touted.
Republicans object to adding funds into the budget to bail out certain “blue states” like New York and Illinois.
“They have chosen a totally partisan path,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, adding there will likely be multiple amendments to the proposal later this week.
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