Senate Democratic leaders are urging their caucus to stick together and fend off GOP amendments that could alter key elements of the $1.9 trillion relief plan when it heads to the floor later this week, a plea aimed at keeping together a fragile Democratic coalition in order to send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk by mid-March.
Senators are walking into a legislative minefield later this week since the relief bill is being considered under budget reconciliation rules that allow a free-flowing amendment process, meaning senators can force votes on as many amendments as they like. That means if two Democrats break ranks, they could amend the bill with the backing of 49 Republicans.
But Democratic leaders want their caucus to hold the line against amendments that could alter the core of the bill and ultimately derail the chances of getting the sweeping measure out of both chambers by March 14 – when jobless benefits are set to expire for millions of Americans.
Asked if he wanted his caucus to hold the line against GOP amendments, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN: “Certainly (against) any amendments that we think will be disruptive of the reconciliation process – maybe more.”
Durbin added of the GOP amendments: “There are some that could be lethal. So, we have to take it very seriously.”
It’s unclear which amendments could peel away Democratic support, but party leaders and the White House have their eyes in particular on a handful of the more centrist members of their caucus, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and independent Angus King of Maine.
Whether there could be some changes around the margins of the bill remain to be seen. And already the Senate is poised to make one major change: Scrapping the $15 federal minimum wage included in the House-passed bill since it was ruled by the Senate’s parliamentarian as outside the scope of the chamber’s rules of budget reconciliation.
Some House liberals want the presiding officer of the Senate, potentially Vice President Kamala Harris, to simply ignore the parliamentarian’s ruling and keep the minimum wage in the bill.
But Durbin threw cold water on that idea, which is also opposed by a number of senators in both parties and by the White House.
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Durbin said. “I hope we think very seriously about dealing with the minimum wage in a different venue.”
Yet pursuing the wage hike outside of budget reconciliation would require 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster, something highly unlikely to succeed.
Given the divisions within the Senate Democratic caucus over the $15 hourly wage mandate, Durbin conceded that the parliamentarian’s decision made passage of the overall bill “less complicating,” while calling the ruling “disappointing.”