The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on a motion to proceed with the budget resolution for President Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal responding to the coronavirus pandemic, a signal that congressional Democrats are willing to move forward with a vote on economic relief whether or not Republicans come to the negotiating table.
"We are not going to dilute, dither or delay," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. "The Senate must move forward today with a vote to begin debate on a budget resolution, and I'm optimistic that the motion to proceed will pass."
Democrats are planning to eschew the traditional method of passing legislation in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to end debate on most legislation, in favor of an expedited process known as budget reconciliation that allows legislation to pass with a simple majority of 51 votes. Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi filed a joint budget resolution on Monday, kickstarting the budget reconciliation process.
Once the Senate votes to begin debate on the budget resolution, there will be up to 50 hours of debate followed by a series of votes on amendments known as a "vote-a-rama." Schumer said that "there will be a bipartisan open amendment process on the budget resolution this week."
"We welcome your ideas, your input, your revisions. We welcome cooperation. There is nothing about the process of a budget resolution or reconciliation, for that matter, that forecloses the possibility of bipartisanship," Schumer said.
Once the House and Senate pass the budget resolution, committees get to work on drafting the reconciliation language. The Senate Budget Committee will examine the language of the bill to make sure it complies with the so-called "Byrd Rule," which limits what can be in reconciliation legislation and bars material considered "extraneous."
Debate on the reconciliation bill in the Senate will be limited to 20 hours, followed by another "vote-a-rama" in which senators can offer amendments and raise a point of order challenging provisions which they consider to be extraneous.
However, the passage of the bill will be stalled by former President Trump's impeachment trial, which begins next week. According to Senate rules, the chamber may not consider any other issues while it is conducting a trial, meaning that the Senate will likely not be able to vote on a reconciliation bill until later this month or early March.
The vote to begin debate on the budget resolution comes after President Biden met with nine Republicans on Monday to discuss their far smaller COVID relief proposal. The group of Republicans, which does not include any members of party leadership, have proposed a $600 billion bill that is far more limited in scope. The GOP proposal does not include money for state and local governments, which has been a sticking point in past negotiations on relief measures.
Republican senators met with Mr. Biden at the White House for over two hours on Monday. There was no agreement, but Senator Susan Collins said after the meeting that conversations would continue at the staff level.
"We're very appreciative, as his first official meeting in the Oval Office, that the president chose to spend so much time with us in a frank and very useful discussion," Collins said.
The president and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are speaking with Democratic senators Tuesday to discuss the measure.