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What exactly is budget reconciliation? It's how Democrats could pass $1,400 stimulus checks

Democrats want a bipartisan deal but are prepared to go at it alone
Chuck Schumer, Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff
Posted at 1:11 PM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 17:26:45-05

WASHINGTON — In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden made a pledge to unify the country. While his administration says its still committed to a bipartisan COVID-19 economic relief deal, some Democrats on Capitol Hill are beginning to sing a different tune.

"We simply can’t take no for an answer," Senator Bernie Sanders said earlier this week.

"The work must move forward, preferably with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must," Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said.

So what allows Democrats to "go at it alone?"

BUDGET RECONCILIATION

Usually 60 votes are needed to pass consequential pieces of legislation in the United States Senate. That's because 60 votes stops a filibuster, which is a procedure one party uses to stop legislation from becoming law.

But under Senate rules, there is a way to pass certain bills with a simple majority, 51 votes.

Democrats have a majority because Vice President Kamala Harris would break ties as president of the Senate.

WHAT QUALIFIES FOR RECONCILIATION

It’s been around since 1980 and 21 bills have become law this way. Taxing, revenue and spending bills can pass using this process. It can’t be used to impact Social Security and it can’t increase the federal deficit after 10 years.

However, budget reconciliation has a lot of “gray area.”

The Congressional Budget Office and the Senate parliamentarian decide if a bill qualifies to pass this way.

Current Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough hasn't ruled whether the current $1.9 trillion stimulus bill could pass this way.

Some have questioned whether raising the minimum wage via reconciliation can be justified.

Schumer said the Senate is preparing to act as early as next week on the proposal.

On Thursday, the White House said it has not given up on both an expedited and bipartisan stimulus bill. But there is a growing realization that a bill would need to go through the budget reconciliation process in a way to subvert the Senate filibuster.

The White House is currently pushing the wide-ranging $1.9 trillion bill that includes funds for state and local governments, distribution for COVID-19 vaccines, PPE for schools and $1,400 stimulus checks for many Americans. A number of Senate Republicans have said they’re open to considering a stimulus bill, but would prefer that a bill be smaller and more targeted in nature.