NAICU Washington Update

Congress Sets Up Fast Track Process for More COVID Relief

February 05, 2021

Congress is in the process of agreeing to a Joint Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2021 to facilitate the quick enactment of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for COVID relief and economic recovery. The budget resolution activates the reconciliation process, which allows for fast track procedures in the Senate that limit debate and require a simple majority vote (50 votes instead of 60) for passage. 

While most private, nonprofit colleges and universities were not included in President Biden’s original relief proposal, it appears Congress is likely to include the full sector in its final package.

On Wednesday, the House passed its budget resolution, and the Senate passed a similar resolution early this morning.  Both versions include reconciliation instructions to key committees in Congress identifying certain amounts of money each committee must spend as their part of the process.  The House plans to pass the Senate version today so that both chambers are working from a joint resolution. 

In the House, the Committee on Education and Labor is instructed to spend $357 billion, while the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is instructed to spend $305 billion. The difference in spending levels has to do with the differing programs each committee has jurisdiction over that are not related to education.  

It is NAICU’s understanding that included in the number is an assumption that both committees have $170 billion to spend on education, of which $40 billion is for higher education.  It will soon be known exactly what the assumptions are that make up the spending totals as both education committees will mark up legislation before February 16. 

Once all the authorizing committees write their bills, the budget committee in each chamber combines them into an omnibus reconciliation package for passage. This is where the mechanics of the reconciliation process come into play. In the House, the Rules Committee sets the parameters and a majority vote is needed for passage. In the Senate, reconciliation legislation is limited to 20 hours of debate, with votes on amendments at the end of debate during a “vote-a-rama,” which tends to consolidate amendments.  A simple majority is required for passage. So with Democrats holding 50 seats, plus the Vice President as a tie-breaker, the reconciliation is guaranteed to pass if all Democrats agree to the legislation. 

Even as Democrats prepare to pass the COVID relief without Republican support, they still continue to work toward a bipartisan agreement. But by setting up the reconciliation process, Democrats can continue bipartisan negotiations, and also ensure immediate action can take place with party-line votes if needed. Democratic leadership would like the next COVID relief passage enacted by mid-March. The expiration of Unemployment Insurance on March 14 is a strong driver for quick completion. 

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