After returning from recess Monday, the Democrat-controlled Budget Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives approved the draft for the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, the third one in less than a year. This vote, which went 19-16 along party lines, allows the Democrats to push the bill for a complete vote over the floor of the house later this week, setting the stage for a final debate and vote in the Senate in March.
Some of the provisions of the bill include a $1,400 check to most households, $400 a week unemployment benefits, $170 billion on public school funding, and a gradual increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. That last item would probably be the most contentious issue of the bill once is taken up to the Senate for final approval.
Unlike the other two COVID relief bills approved during the last year by the Trump administration, this legislation seems that will pass on a strict party-line vote. Let us remember, the CARES Act of March 2020 was passed with practical unanimity in both the House and the Senate, while the December additional package was approved by a 359-53 margin in the House and a 92-6 in the Senate.
There is however immense opposition within the GOP regarding the content of the bill. With both the GOP Senate and House leadership openly opposing the passage of the bill. The Biden administration has not included the opposition in the drafting of the bill and rejected (so far) the counter-proposal presented by 10 Republican senators. Republicans have condemned the vast reach of the COVID bill and have denounced that many of the provisions of the bill are not related to pandemic relief but to achieving liberal policies.
Despite GOP opposition, a version of the bill will most likely pass Congress as Democrats control majorities in both houses and do not have to worry about the dreaded filibuster in the senate for this particular bill. The real issue that might be up to grabs is that of the rise in the minimum wage, which Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) have signaled opposition to the measure, meaning Democrats would fall two votes short for passage of the bill.
A political weapon?
Biden campaigned on the promise of unity and bragging about his bipartisan credentials, nevertheless, he has yet to match those kind words with action. He has (until now) maintained his support for a cabinet nominee that the GOP and some Democrats have found unacceptable and failed to reach out to Republicans on their proposed COVID bill.
If you only heard the talking points coming from Biden’s surrogates (not Biden himself who still has to hold a solo press conference) you would think Democrats have a 60+ majority in Congress to unilaterally implement their policies, not the razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress obtained after a surprising run of GOP candidates down the ballot. In other words, Biden’s acting as if he had a won a 2008 Obama style majority, when he clearly did not.
It would be fair to say that the administration is missing a golden opportunity to begin his “unity” agenda with a bipartisan win. However, this would also be incredibly naive, the matter of the fact is that Democrats are planning to use the GOP’s refusal to their COVID bill as a talking point for the following months. As an article published by Politico explains, the plan is to bolster the popularity of the relief package and put Republicans in the uncomfortable position of defending their opposition to a popular bill, portraying them as too willing to cut taxes for the rich but not to give checks to the people.
Sure, this is not the first time (nor will be the last) that a political party is partisan. Nevertheless, Biden campaigned on a message of him being able to work out across the aisle and “restore the soul of America”. Yet, when showed with an opportunity to push for a legislation that could have support from both parties, showing to the country that his talks of unity were sincere, and that he was not the trojan horse for the left that many, he decided to do the opposite and push for a partisan vote that could be used in 2022.
Democrats are rushing a $1.3 trillion dollar bill without any significant feedback from the opposition, they have sidelined and rejected any reasonable compromise proposal by some of the GOP Senators. If this is how they act when they have a barebones majority in Congress, how would they act if they have won a comfortable one?