Congress Begins Budget Reconciliation Process for COVID-19 Relief

This week, the House and Senate approved the FY21 Budget Resolution establishing a process for consideration of a COVID-19 relief package through the budget reconciliation process. 

Final passage in the Senate came at the end of a lengthy “vote-a-rama” process, in which Senators from both parties offered many amendments to the budget resolution in a marathon Senate session. (The House later passed the Senate-approved version.) All told, about 45 amendments were considered.  Final box score: 17 amendments passed on a roll call vote, 15 failed, 5 passed by voice vote, and 8 were ruled out of order.

Of note – the majority of the amendments offered, and all that were adopted, were to establish Deficit Neutral Reserve Funds (DNRFs). DNRFs creates optional space in the budget resolution for a policy to be included but requires that any impact to the deficit be offset by a corresponding amount. Said another way – any spending to accomplish the policy goal needs to be offset by savings.  Committees that would have jurisdiction over this amendment are not required to act on it. The goal of DNRFs is largely messaging about the importance or support on an issue, and a political tactic to get members on the record for or against a policy. To reiterate, these types of amendments are not binding on the committees who will write the actual relief package.   

The budget resolution provides 11 Senate committees and 12 House committees with reconciliation instructions.  All told, these instructions total $1.889 trillion in new deficit spending which mirrors President Biden’s COVID proposal. Below are charts provided by the House and Senate Budget Committees outlining budget reconciliation amounts. 

 

RECONCILIATION INSTRUCTIONS TO SENATE COMMITTEES

Deficit increase (2021-2030), billions of dollars

Committee Amount
Agriculture $23 billion
Banking $89 billion
Commerce $36 billion
Environment and Public Works $3 billion
Finance $1,296 billion
Foreign Relations $10 billion
HELP $305 billion
Homeland Security and Government Affairs $51 billion
Indian Affairs $9 billion
Small Business $50 billion
Veterans Affairs $17 billion
Total $1,889 billion

 

RECONCILIATION INSTRUCTIONS TO HOUSE COMMITTEES

Deficit increase (2021-2030), billions of dollars

Committee Amount
Agriculture $16 billion
Education & Labor $358 billion
Energy & Commerce $188 billion
Financial Service $75 billion
Foreign Affairs $10 billion
Natural Resources $1 billion
Oversight & Reform $351 billion
Science, Space, & Technology $1 billion
Small Business $50 billion
Transportation & Infrastructure $96 billion
Veterans Affairs $17 billion
Ways & Means $941 billion
Total $1,889 billion

NOTE – numbers may not sum to total due to overlapping jurisdictions, overlaps will be resolved later in process.

Timeline for Further Consideration

Democrats have indicated that March 15th is their goal for passage of a COVID-focused reconciliation bill.  March 15th is when several programs created under previous COVID-related packages are set to expire, including the enhanced unemployment benefit. That leaves little time for negotiation with Republicans who would like to see a smaller and more targeted package. It also leaves very little wiggle room for delays should the reconciliation bill run into procedural problems in the Senate. This likely means that Democrats cannot stray too far from President Biden’s COVID proposal or from the policies that were developed under the House-passed HEROES Act last year. Extraneous, under-developed, or politically sensitive policies will likely be held until a later date. 

House committees can begin marking up their reconciliation bills as early as next week. While the House will technically be in recess, these two weeks have been designated as “committee work weeks” allowing them to conduct markups virtually. The authorizing committees and the Budget Committee could use these two weeks to complete the necessary work required to produce a reconciliation bill for a vote on the House floor the week of February 22nd.  The Senate schedule  remains unclear because of the impeachment trial, which begins on February 9th.  Majority Leader Schumer has indicated the relevant Senate committees will be prepared to move quickly once the trial has concluded.  

Given competing priorities and the limited timeframe, meeting the mid-March deadline will be a challenge but Democratic leaders are determined to do it.