Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the media during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA, on January 26, 2021.

Al Drago | Reuters

Congress took its first major steps on Tuesday to pass the Democrats’ $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package.

In a vote between 50 and 49 parties, the Senate voted to press ahead with a budget resolution that would set the reconciliation process in motion. The House followed suit and pushed a budget measure forward in a vote between 216 and 210 on Tuesday evening.

Once passed in both houses, the Democrats can pass the bailout laws without Republican support.

Democrats have argued they need to put more money into the health and economic response as soon as possible. As a handful of Republicans hope to strike a smaller deal after meeting President Joe Biden on Monday, the challenge is to strike a balance between the Democrats’ plan and the GOP’s $ 618 billion offer.

“Time is a luxury that our country does not have,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., earlier Tuesday when he announced a vote to move the budget process forward.

He later added that Democrats “want this important work to be bipartisan” and would welcome Republican contributions.

Democrats, who gained a narrow Senate majority last month, have made another rescue package their top priority since Biden took office. They have argued that the $ 900 billion aid bill passed in December, which after months of federal inaction that allowed millions to fall into poverty and hunger, did not go far enough to cover the scale of the health and economic crises to tackle.

Several Republicans have called for money to speed up the vaccine distribution process, boost small businesses, and provide short-term relief to unemployed Americans. GOP lawmakers have questioned the need for the Biden sponsored spending.

The Republican senators who met with Biden on Monday did not seem to be making much headway toward a compromise. However, Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana and part of the GOP group, is “optimistic that something can happen,” he told CNBC on Tuesday.

During the meeting, Biden “expressed hope that the group could continue to discuss ways to strengthen the White House plan,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. She said Biden reiterated “he will not slow down work on this urgent crisis response or settle for a package that does not meet the moment.”

Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined a Senate Democratic caucus call on Tuesday. During the call, the president said he was “fully on board” when it came to reconciliation, Schumer said. Biden also said he told Republicans their proposal was “way too small,” added the Senate Democrat.

The Democratic proposal includes $ 1,400 in direct payments to most Americans, $ 400 a week in unemployment benefits through September, and $ 350 billion in state, local, and tribal aid. In addition, $ 170 billion will be invested in K-12 schools and colleges and $ 20 billion in a national vaccination program.

The Republicans offer significant cuts from Biden. Stimulus checks would be $ 1,000 instead of $ 1,400, and expire at $ 40,000 for individuals, rather than $ 75,000.

By June, unemployment insurance would offer $ 300 per week, $ 100 less per week than Biden’s proposal for three months less. It would also pour only $ 20 billion into K-12 schools and not include state, local, and tribal support, which is a priority for Democrats.

In criticizing the GOP proposal on Monday, the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, D-Ore, pointed to the earlier cut in unemployment benefits.

Cassidy, meanwhile, advocated a smaller bill, citing in part a report from the Congressional Budget Office that expected the economy to recover “quickly”. While the economy is expected to recover this year amid widespread vaccine use, 18 million people were still receiving unemployment benefits last month.

The unemployment supplement of USD 300 per week passed in December expires in mid-March.

The budget resolution tabled by Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Provides instructions for appropriate committees to develop relief efforts. Actions include direct payments, unemployment benefits, Covid-19 vaccine distribution and testing funds, rental and mortgage assistance, small business support, and school funding, among others.

The instructions did not include a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. Democrats support politics, but rules on the use of reconciliation could prevent them from passing them as part of the law.

The budget rules are just one of the hurdles Democrats face when trying to pass legislation without Republicans. They may still have to convince some skeptical Democrats, particularly Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to support the package.

A bill would fail in an evenly divided Senate if a Democrat were defective.

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