Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

President Biden Reveals Plans for His First 100 Days; Proposed Budget Resolution and Budget Reconciliation to Facilitate Senate Passage of Legislation

On January 14 President Biden released his preliminary plans for fiscal year 2022, providing an overview of his priorities. Priority one will be dealing with fallout from the current COVID-19 pandemic as described in his aid and stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan. This is in addition to H.R. 133, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, enacted in December, which provided $900 billion specifically for COVID-19 relief. Other priorities are detailed in his Executive Orders, including managing climate change, protecting access to affordable health, building a bridge towards economic recovery, and investing in racial justice.

However, his first 100 days are already competing with time-consuming activities such as a Senate impeachment trial and the need for the evenly divided Senate to finalize its organizing resolution. If past is prologue (see Senate Powersharing Agreement of the 107th Congress), we will see the Senate’s organizational measure negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), where there will be equal representation on each Senate committee with Democratic chairs and an equal division of committee staffs between the parties. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will likely chair the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the presumed ranking member – a reversal of their roles from the 116th Congress. When it comes to the legislative process, procedures for discharging measures blocked by tie votes in Senate committees; a restriction on the offering of cloture motions (to end debate); and restrictions on floor amendments offered by party leaders will likely become reality.

When the House members were sworn in on January 3, there were 222 Democrats and 211 Republicans, with two vacancies in New York’s 22nd District and Louisiana’s 5th District. Three Democratic House members are expected to leave office to take on cabinet positions in the Biden Administration: -Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Deb Haaland (D-NM), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), which will further shrink the ranks of the House Democrats. The House is further ahead in organizing its chairs and ranking members for committees and staffers. House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also announced Democratic key staff positions on subcommittees with jurisdiction over spending bills for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

An important step that this Congress will likely take is to write a budget resolution, which will need passage by both houses of Congress, but no Presidential signature since it lacks the force of law. The budget resolution lays out the blueprint for the appropriations process but without new spending authority. It is normally finalized by April then submitted for floor votes in each chamber. Once differences are reconciled through the conference report, the resolution establishes total budgets, allocations, and entitlements. It may also include reconciliation instructions to designated House or Senate committees, directing them to change existing law in order to bring spending, revenues, or the debt limit into conformity with the budget resolution and provide a deadline by which the legislation is to be reported.

Reconciliation is a tool that expedites the passage of certain budgetary legislation and will likely come into play for the President’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. This package is already stirring up resistance in the Senate, however, and could have difficulty getting the 60 votes necessary for passage. Reconciliation can be used on bills impacting spending, revenue, or the federal debt limit. In the Senate it removes the obstacle of a Senate filibuster, which requires 60 Senators to vote for passage of a bill. Instead, only a majority vote would be needed to pass legislation.