Democrats lay plans to sideline GOP on COVID-19 bill

Senate Democrats said Tuesday they’re working on a backup plan in case Republicans won’t agree to President Biden‘s $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill, saying they’re preparing to use the budget process to force the legislation through without worrying about GOP support.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who is Democrats’ top lawmaker on the Budget Committee, said he’s already writing the bill that would sideline Republicans. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said they could hold a floor vote as early as next week.

Mr. Sanders said the bill would include issues Republicans have said are non-starters, including more than doubling the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and “much more” beyond that.

“I think there is a consensus. If Republicans are not prepared to come on board, that’s fine. We’re not going to wait. We’re going forward soon and aggressively,” he said.

Mr. Biden has called for unity after four years of President Trump, but Democrats have made clear the unity will be on their terms.

That has irked Republicans who said they had hoped to work with Mr. Biden to craft a unity package.

“I was very pleased with what President Biden said at his inaugural address about the need to do outreach and work together as Republicans and Democrats and solve problems. I haven’t seen it, particularly with regard to the COVID-19 bill,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.

Under normal operations, with the filibuster intact in a Senate divided 50-50, it would take at least 10 Republicans to agree to any major legislation.

But with resistance to Mr. Biden‘s expansive plan already heavy within the GOP, Democrats are eyeing the budget process, which can avoid the filibuster.

In a tactic known as reconciliation, legislation can pass on majority vote, though it is supposed to be constrained in the issues it can cover.

Democrats are now pondering how far they can push the limits to cover their priorities, and say time is of the essence.

The last $900 billion relief package cleared in late December.

Republicans say they want to see how it’s working before they approve nearly $2 trillion more.

Democrats, though, said key parts of the $900 billion, such as expanded unemployment benefits, run out in mid-March, and they want to have extensions in place well before then.

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