This is my update for Friday, February 5th. The Senate passed a budget resolution late last night, actually early this morning, with a 50-50 vote on party lines and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie breaking vote at around 5:30 AM.
The resolution was passed at the end of the vote-a-rama I mentioned yesterday where all Senators were able to put amendments to a vote. Senator Joe Manchin proposed one that I brought up during yesterday’s update, confirming that upper-income taxpayers would not be eligible for the next round of stimulus checks, that passed 99-1 with only Republican Senator Rand Paul voting against it.
One of the Republican strategies in the vote-a-rama included forcing votes on controversial issues in order to make Democrats go on the record, so for example Republican Senator Jim Inhofe proposed an amendment committing to keeping the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, which passed 97-3 with Democratic Senators Sanders, Warren, and Carper dissenting. Tom Cotton, another Republican Senator, tried to do something similar by calling for a point of order against any attempts to expand the Supreme Court, but Democrat Dick Durbin prevented the vote by pointing out that it fell outside of the scope of a budget resolution.
Finally, Republican Senator Jodi Ernst called a vote to prohibit raising the federal minimum wage to $15 during the pandemic, which she said would be “devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time when they can least afford it,” and in fact even Bernie Sanders voted in favor of that and responded by saying that his plan was to raise the minimum wage over a period of five years rather than immediately raising it to $15 per hour.
And today the House of Representatives passed the same budget resolution that was passed earlier today in the Senate. From here, there will be a two-week period without any floor votes in the House as the various committees start working on a reconciliation package for the COVID relief bill. Those committees will send their work to the Budget Committee, who will put it all back together in a single bill, send it to the Rules Committee, and finally put it to a vote on the floor, maybe sometime around the end of the month.
Even then, it will have to go back to the Senate, so even though they’ve been clearing a lot of procedural steps there’s still a long way to go before a stimulus bill makes it to Biden’s desk. Nancy Pelosi said earlier today that she was still committed to getting through these steps in the House in the next two weeks, so there’s a lot of urgency on the Democratic side here.
After the January jobs report showed that the US economy added under 50,000 jobs in the first month of 2021, Biden made another statement reaffirming the urgent nature of the COVID relief plan and that we are still facing significant economic challenges.
He said “it is very clear our economy is still in trouble. I know some in Congress think we’ve already done enough to deal with the crisis in this country. Others think that things are getting better and we can afford to sit back and either do little or nothing at all. That’s not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work. A lot of folks going hungry.”
He also went on to say that the extent of the crisis made it necessary for him to consider passing a bill without any bipartisan negotiations: “If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now.” To me this basically matches the tone we’ve seen from Biden since he became President, he wants to get Republicans onboard, he wants both sides to be involved, but if they’re too far apart on issues that he thinks are crucial to the final bill—the $1,400 stimulus checks, for example—then he won’t have any trouble with passing those provisions on party lines like we saw in the Senate last night.
And even though unemployment is down to the lowest it’s been since coronavirus reached the US, adding just 49,000 jobs isn’t exactly a sign of a quick recovery, and the current rate of 6.3 percent is still almost double the unemployment rate at the beginning of 2020, which was 3.5 percent for both January and February. So yes it’s a lot better than 14.8 percent or 13.3 percent, which is what we saw in April and May after the virus first hit the United States, but we have a long way to go before we get back to a healthy economy. You can see it in this graph, we lost more than 20 million jobs in April alone, and we gained some back over the next few months, but there hasn’t been much movement since September or October.
Biden also met earlier today with the Democratic chairs of Congressional committees in the House of Representatives to put more momentum behind his stimulus bill and get them onboard with his view of how this should play out.
After the meeting, Nancy Pelosi said “we have been focused like a laser on getting this done. We hope to be able to put vaccines in peoples’ arms, money in peoples’ pockets, children safely in schools and workers in their jobs.
That’s what we are doing now.” There’s an especially time-sensitive aspect of the bill here with extra unemployment benefits set to expire in March, as I said earlier there’s going to be a rush to get this through the House, that will likely take two weeks, so stay here for more updates on what’s going on with the stimulus negotiations and everything else on Capitol Hill.