Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said Sunday that Democrats would use a rare procedural tactic to pass major parts of a Covid-19 relief package if Republicans refuse to move on the measure.
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that Democrats will use the move – known as reconciliation – “as soon as we possibly can” to pass the package by 51 votes in the Senate, rather than 60, if Republicans don’t move the legislation.
“What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward. We have got to act now,” he said.
Republicans used the reconciliation process when they attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017 in the Senate. The GOP successfully used the process months later to overhaul the country’s tax code, which passed with just Republican votes.
On the urgency to pass a Covid-19 relief package in this new administration, Sanders told Bash: “If we do not respond now, yes, I believe two years from now the Republicans will say, ‘Hey, you elected these guys, they did nothing, vote for us,’ and they will win.”
The White House has urged patience when it comes to negotiating and passing the stimulus plan on a bipartisan basis through the regular Senate process, but President Joe Biden’s team has said they aren’t willing to “take any tools off the table.”
Asked Friday about senators using budget reconciliation, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said it was the administration’s “strong preference” that they do not, but suggested it was a bargaining tool.
“Our strong preference, the President’s preference, what we’re working toward here, is bipartisan support for this bill,” she told MSNBC Friday evening. “Absolutely no question about it, it is urgent, and certainly if the Senate and the House keep reconciliation on the table as an option, that’s understandable.”
She said there may be “multiple ways to get to passage, but that does not mean that the President is not wholly committed to working to get Republican votes.”
There are still questions about what parts of Biden’s Covid-19 relief package would be allowed to advance under reconciliation. Some aides have identified that items like the $15 minimum wage could struggle to meet the criteria.
CNN’s Lauren Fox and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.