Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed confidence on Tuesday that President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill will pass in the Senate this week, saying the Senate will take up the legislation as early as Wednesday. The Senate is using the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, which limits time for debate and allows legislation to pass with a simple majority.
"We want to get the biggest, strongest, boldest bill that can pass. And that's what we are working to do," Schumer told reporters. "We'll have the votes we need to pass the bill."
Schumer spoke to reporters after Mr. Biden addressed Democratic senators virtually during their caucus lunch.
"Biden made his pitch today to our entire caucus. He said we need to pass this bill and pass it soon," Schumer said.
The Senate is evenly divided, and Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote, meaning that all 50 Democratic senators will need to support the bill for it to pass. Republicans have criticized the size of the bill and chastised Democrats for using the budget reconciliation process to allow the bill to be approved without bipartisan support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday that Democrats had chosen a "completely partisan route" to pass the relief package.
Under the rules of the budget reconciliation process, debate on the bill will be limited to 20 hours. This will be followed by a "vote-a-rama" later this week, in which the Senate will vote on a series of amendments to the bill. Traditionally, the minority party has used a "vote-a-rama" to put political pressure on the majority by attempting to pass controversial amendments. However, most amendments introduced by the minority party fail, as an amendment requires a simple majority of votes to be added to the bill.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has said he will introduce an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee Chair Patty Murray will join Sanders in offering the amendment.
"I intend to offer the bill that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and we'll see how the votes go," Sanders told reporters on Monday. "But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back. We're going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we're going to raise that minimum wage very shortly."
A provision raising the minimum wage was included in the initial relief bill, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week it could not be included under the "Byrd rule," which requires provisions included in a bill passed through reconciliation be budget-related. The House passed the relief bill including the minimum wage provision last week.
It is unclear whether Sanders' amendment will be able to reach the threshold to pass, as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have expressed concern about raising the minimum wage to $15. If the amendment did pass, Republicans could raise a point of order against it, as the parliamentarian has ruled inclusion of such a provision would violate budget reconciliation rules. Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, could dismiss the point of order.
A group of progressive lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Biden and Harris on Monday, urging Harris to dismiss any point of order brought by Republicans, which would overrule the parliamentarian's decision. Republicans could then try to challenge Harris' decision, but would require 60 votes to overturn it.
"The outdated and complex Byrd rule rooted in restricting progress must not be an impediment to improving people's lives. You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans," the letter said.