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Biden Faces an 'Early Test' in Congress

Newser — John Johnson

The Senate has been in a kind of legislative limbo since the election, but that ended Monday night when Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer ended a stalemate on how to move forward.

Now comes the task of actually passing legislation, including a COVID relief measure with its accompanying relief checks for Americans. Already, this is presenting what the Hill sees as a "tough choice" for President Biden just days into his administration.

Should he engage in prolonged talks with Republicans to craft a bipartisan bill or push it through more quickly with a parliamentary maneuver? Coverage:

  • Dilemma: Here's how the Politico Playbook frames this "early test" for Biden: "Does he negotiate, negotiate, negotiate or does he decide to bypass the GOP by mustering his COVID package through, which is receiving bipartisan pushback at the moment?" If he negotiates, he might well end up with a smaller package than he wants and incur the wrath of progressives, notes the Hill.

On the other hand, he'd set a precedent of achieving a bipartisan deal.

  • The maneuver: Biden and Democrats could jam the measure through by something called "budget reconciliation." Instead of requiring the usual 60 votes, it would need only a bare majority, meaning Democrats could pass it on their own.

On Monday, Biden signaled for the first time he'd be willing to use this method, saying the decision "will depend on how these negotiations go." Democrats can use this maneuver on the COVID package because it affects federal spending and revenue, explains Vox.

Hence the name budget reconciliation. But they wouldn't be able to use it on broader legislation.

  • Unstuck: Prior to Monday night, the Senate had been essentially "frozen from the previous Congress," per the Washington Post.

Schumer and his fellow Democrats were technically in charge, but all the committees were still in GOP hands because McConnell and Schumer couldn't agree on how to operate under a 50-50 split.

The breakthrough came after McConnell relented on a demand over the filibuster.

  • The filibuster: McConnell wanted assurances in writing that Democrats would not scrap the filibuster, thus allowing Republicans to have some say in legislation.

Schumer refused because he wanted to retain the threat of eliminating the filibuster as leverage. However, McConnell dropped his demand Monday when two centrist Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, said they wouldn't vote in favor of ditching the filibuster, reports Axios.

This being DC, both McConnell and Schumer claimed victory in the standoff.

  • Timeline: So when might those COVID relief checks arrive? Still unclear. The process will be faster if Democrats choose to use the budget reconciliation route, but that still takes at least a few weeks, notes Politico.

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