President Joe Biden was extremely vocal about the coronavirus crisis and the dwindling lifestyle of Americans amid the pandemic in recent days.
Finally, he introduced the COVID stimulus package of $1.9 trillion, including a stimulus check of $2000. To avoid the imminent lingering, Democrats decided to pass the bill on their own without getting any help from Republicans at all.
How can Democrats pass the bill without Republicans’ support in the presence of the filibuster? What is vote-a-rama, and what is the significance of it in the current scenario?
We have gathered all the questions regarding the COVID stimulus package that will become a reality soon. Let’s have a look.
1. If the filibuster is still relevant in the US Senate, how can Democrats pass the bill without the help of Republicans?
This process is called the “Budget Reconciliation process.” It is a special legislative process that Democrats can use in the legislations for situations of high urgency.
With both House and the Senate in control, congressional budget reconciliation allows the dominating party to pass the bill with a simple majority. With this act, the filibuster becomes irrelevant.
2. How did Democrats invoke the budget reconciliation process?
Democrats succeeded in invoking the process by voting in favor of it, as the Senate voted across the party lines. Democrats won the vote with a 50-49 vote with the absence of the Republican Senator Pat Tommey from the session. So now they can pass the COVID stimulus package without Republicans’ support.
3. Is the budget reconciliation act applicable in every legislation?
No, this act is mostly extended to fiscal or monetary legislation that is of high priority in nature, and the delay of which can be consequential for Americans.
4. With the budget reconciliation process, I am listening to the debate of “vote-a-rama” as well. What is this?
Vote-a-Rama is a special provision that is invoked with the budget reconciliation process. In the usual circumstances, the filibuster can prolong the debate in the Senate indefinitely.
Similarly, the Senators can propose as many amendments to the bill as they want. However, with the budget reconciliation process, only twenty hours of the debate can be held and the amendments proposed after this time frame are considered with a minimal debate. This process is called vote-a-rama.
With this vote, the Senators quickly vote on the amendments that come after the given time bracket of twenty hours so that the legislation cannot be delayed indefinitely; otherwise, the very purpose of the budget reconciliation process will die.
5. Which type of amendments can be proposed under vote-a-rama?
Only the germane amendments that are relevant to the bill can be proposed under the vote-a-rama. This is a significant thing, as this is usually not the condition in the general legislation, where anything can be offered as amendments.
6. Can Democrats exploit the bill now after triggering the budget reconciliation process?
Playing with the Budget Reconciliation Act is not as simple as it seems. By invoking the act, the Democrats have also invoked the Byrd Rule, which suggests that they can only add those provisions in the bill that are relevant to the COVID stimulus package. The Byrd Rule clearly states that the “extraneous” provisions cannot be added to the bill.
So, under this rule, Democrats can’t exploit the act by adding the provisions of their own choice.
7. Did all the Democrats really vote along the party line? Didn’t Senator Joe Machin object at all?
Although Joe Machin voted to kick off the reconciliation, he is expected to put some roadblocks in the final voting of the bill. He said that he would vote for anything “targeted” to help Americans. He further said that,
I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic.”
This statement of Joe Machin has started yet another controversy. Democrats were likely to pass the $15 per hour minimum wage with the COVID stimulus package.
However, Joe Machin said that he would not support any such provision, as it should vary from state to state, citing the example that in his state, it is $11.
8. Why did Democrats invoke the budget reconciliation process? What are the current objections of Republicans?
Biden is currently offering a much bigger package than what the Republicans want to pass. Republicans are striving hard to pass a bill worth $618 billion.
So, the Republicans’ bill is three times smaller than that of Democrats with much lower incentives. With this, Americans will get only a $1000 stimulus check compared to a $2000 check in Biden’s stimulus package.
Not only this, but the unemployment package is also much lower in the Republicans’ plan.
9. Why are Democrats in a hurry to pass the bill?
“We’re not going to dilute, dither, or delay because the needs of the American people are just too great…Time is of the essence.”
(Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer)
Democrats were not satisfied with the Republicans’ bill, which they passed in December 2020. They wanted a bigger stimulus package back then. Now, with the White House and Congress in hand, they can actually turn their ideas into reality.