The latest on Congress as GOP tensions rise

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Melissa Mahtani and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:04 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021
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8:21 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

What you need to know about budget reconciliation and the role it could play in advancing Biden's stimulus

From CNN's Ted Barrett, Lauren Fox and Paul LeBlanc

As President Biden pursues a bipartisan Covid-19 relief deal, Senate Democrats are laying the groundwork for passing relief without any Republican votes using a procedural shortcut known as budget reconciliation.

Reconciliation could allow Democrats to fast track key aspects of Biden's agenda, from Covid-19 relief to infrastructure, but the process comes with a strict set of rules attached.

Here's what you need to know:

  • What is budget reconciliation? The reconciliation process was set up as part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act to make it faster and easier to pass legislation related to spending, taxes and debt, because debate on the bills is limited to 20 hours and can be passed on a simple majority vote. Budget reconciliation allows lawmakers to bypass the 60-vote threshold typically required for breaking filibusters and moving legislation forward. Democrats currently control exactly 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, and Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in her capacity as Senate president. That's enough for Democrats to be able to use reconciliation to pass some kinds of legislation.
  • What can be passed using budget reconciliation? Bills are only eligible for the budget reconciliation process if they affect federal revenue or spending. They are subject to what's known as the Byrd rule, a multi-pronged test designed to keep out provisions considered extraneous, without any real impact on the budget, or that might affect Social Security. As the committees write their bills, they will try to ensure their proposals will be approved by Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough who must enforce the Byrd rule. Senators can challenge the parliamentarian's decisions and vote to waive the Byrd Rule, but they would need a 60 vote majority to do so.
  • When has reconciliation been used before? Reconciliation has been used many times by both parties to pass controversial legislation over the objections of the minority party, including former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act in 2010 and Trump's sweeping tax cuts in 2017.
  • How will budget reconciliation be used for the Covid-19 package? Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer introduced a budget resolution Monday, the first in a two-step process that will allow the work of writing the coronavirus relief bill in committees to begin. The budget vote now will clear the way for Democrats to potentially pass their relief bill by late February or March after the impeachment trial of former President Trump is completed in the Senate.

Read more about budget reconciliation here.

8:21 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Six of Biden's 23 Cabinet-level nominees requiring Senate approval have been confirmed so far

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ted Barrett

The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary, the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department.

His confirmation will fill a critical role in the new administration and he'll be expected to swiftly begin rolling back Trump administration immigration policies while juggling the response to a global pandemic and national security threats, along with restoring a department that's been rattled by leadership turnover and vacancies in recent years.

The Senate also voted Tuesday to confirm Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet secretary.

Buttigieg's confirmation elevates the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to a top post in the federal government.

The choice vaults a candidate President Joe Biden spoke glowingly of after the primary into a top job in his administration and could earn Buttigieg what many Democrats believe is needed experience should he run for president again.

The role of transportation secretary is expected to play a central role in Biden's push for a bipartisan infrastructure package.

Six of Biden's 23 Cabinet-level nominees requiring Senate approval have now been confirmed so far. Here’s where Biden’s nominees stand.