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East front of the U.S. Capitol, June 22, 2018. (Photo by Humberto Sanchez)

The Democratic-majority House and Senate this week approved a spending blueprint, clearing the way for Democrats to draft and pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-aid package, based on President Joe Biden's proposal, that the Senate could approve without any GOP support.

Passage of the so-called budget resolution followed action on separate spending outlines passed by the House and Senate. The 50-50 split Senate voted early Friday morning. The vote fell along party lines with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after a 15-hour session during which the Senate took 44 roll call votes. 

Informally known as the vote-a-rama, that longstanding part of the Senate budget process, just before the final vote on the resolution, allows senators to offer any amendment for a vote, which enables them to file hundreds. Senators teed-up 900 for this year’s vote-a-rama. But not all filed amendments are called up for votes as lawmakers tire as the night wears on.

While ultimately passed by both chambers, the resolution does not become law. It only sets out a spending framework for congressional committees to meet and, in the current resolution, includes instructions to draft a COVID-aid package through the reconciliation process, which protects the bill from being filibustered in the Senate. 

The vote-a-rama is typically used by the minority party to get members on the record on specific issues, usually for political attack ads. This year it included a vote on a GOP amendment to deny families with mixed immigration status from receiving $1,400 direct payments proposed in the resolutions. Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) opposed the amendment with all but eight Democrats. The amendment was approved 58 to 42. 

With an eye toward winning back the majority in 2022, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) highlighted Cortez Masto's vote in a release. His citation underscored the fact that Republicans plan to target her seat. The release also cited Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who, in McConnell’s words, "voted to give taxpayer-funded payments to people in the country illegally.”

McConnell also highlighted Cortez Masto’s vote against a GOP amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to make it more difficult to pass legislation to add seats to the Supreme Court. The amendment failed, 50-50, with all Democrats opposing it. 

“All 50 Senate Democrats voted against Sen. Cotton’s amendment, leaving an avenue open for them to potentially pack the Supreme Court,” McConnell’s office said in a release.

Action on the budget also came as the Senate approved the nomination of Pete Buttigieg to be transportation secretary and Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary. Both Cortez Masto and Rosen voted to confirm the nominees.

The budget votes also came as House impeachment managers requested that former President Donald Trump testify ahead of his impeachment trial, which begins next week, for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Trump subsequently refused the House manager’s invitation.

COVID aid

After the Senate passed its resolution, 51 to 50, the House took it up later Friday and passed it 219 to 209. All of Nevada’s House Democrats supported the resolution. As is typical, no Republicans supported the Democrat-drafted measure. 

Both chambers must pass identical resolutions to enact a reconciliation package. Usually, the two chambers hammer out differences between their respective resolutions in a conference committee. But this year, the House chose to pass the Senate resolution to expedite the process.

Friday’s House vote on the Senate resolution came after the House passed its own budget resolution Wednesday on a 218 to 212 party-line vote. 

During the debate Wednesday, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), a member of the House Budget Committee, spoke on the floor to support the resolution. He dismissed GOP arguments that the instructions to committees to draft a $1.9 billion COVID-aid bill would increase the deficit and pointed to the GOP use of the budget reconciliation process to enact tax cuts in 2017 that boosted the deficit by about $2 trillion over ten years.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has killed thousands of Nevadans and devastated our economy,” Horsford said. “Today, some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle raised concerns about the fiscal impact of [the COVID package.] With millions hungry and out-of-work, now is not the time.”

He said he held out hope that some Republicans would support the $1.9 trillion COVID bill produced by the congressional committees. So did Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), who said in a release that while Republican support would be welcome, time is running short for delivering aid. Many existing aid programs, including those to help the uninsured, are set to expire next month.

“Simply put, there is no time to waste,” Lee said. “That’s why I supported the budget resolution today. I sincerely hope that Republicans will recognize the desperate need for urgent and robust action.”

Part of a group of centrist lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, Lee signed on to their effort to call on leaders to immediately pass a $160 billion vaccine distribution package. But Democratic leaders do not seem keen on splitting off any provisions of their COVID aid plan. 

Biden voiced his desire to move ahead with the package Friday, with or without Republican backing. Biden cited the jobs report released Friday that showed the economy only created 49,000 jobs in January. “At that rate, it's going to take 10 years before we get to full employment,” Biden said before meeting with House Democratic leaders. “That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact.”

It remains to be seen whether any GOP members would support the reconciliation package. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) Tuesday was critical of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for launching the reconciliation process, which—in an evenly-divided Senate—would obviate the need for support from the minority party, in this case, the GOP.

“We passed five bipartisan covid packages.” Young said. “It’s not a good signal that he’s adopting a take-it-or-leave-it approach right after his president delivers an inaugural address based on unity.”

Young is a part of a group of Republicans who have been in talks with the Biden White House on the COVID aid bill.

The resolution includes a directive to committees for taxpayers to get $1,400 direct payments. But it is a matter of debate how much a taxpayer could make and still be eligible for the payment.

The $600 payment provided in the last aid law, approved in December, was given to individuals who earned up to $75,000 last year. Couples that earned up to $150,000 received a $1,200 payment and an additional $600 per dependent child. 

Republicans want the next payment to be more targeted to lower-income taxpayers. Biden has signaled that he may support capping the $1,400 payments to individuals earning less than $50,000 and a $2,800 payment to married couples making less than $100,000. The Senate voted 99-1 on an amendment to the budget resolution to keep the payments from “upper-income taxpayers“ in the COVID package.

The resolution also called for a $400 a week supplementary payment for those collecting unemployment insurance benefits, a $100 increase from the $300 supplement approved in December in the $900 billion aid package. The resolutions also include instructions for $350 billion for state, local and tribal and aid.

Democrats are also eyeing an increase in the $7.50 an hour federal minimum wage to $15.00, as part of the reconciliation bill, which Biden supports. But there are questions about whether the increase qualifies for inclusion in the reconciliation package, which must adhere to strict rules on what can be included. For example, provisions in the bill must directly affect federal revenues or deficits instead of having just an incidental effect. The Senate parliamentarian will decide these questions.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that if it can’t go in the reconciliation package, they will not give up trying to pass it. 

“Well, it doesn't mean it won't happen just because it won't happen there,” Pelosi said. “ As you know, in many ways we're at the mercy of the Senate.” 

Republicans working with Biden had proposed their own $600 billion plan, but Democrats, including Biden and Pelosi, have said it is not enough. 

During its vote-a-rama, the Senate rejected a GOP amendment to the resolution that sought to prohibit health care practitioners from failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion. It failed 52 to 48, short of the 60 votes needed to pass, which required waiving budget rules. Both Cortez Masto and Rosen opposed the amendment.

They also voted against a GOP amendment that would have sought to prioritize the arrest of foreign nationals charged with a crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury. It also needed 60 votes.

The Senate also adopted, by voice vote, an amendment offered by Cortez Masto to include aid for the hospitality industry in the COVID package. 

Miscellany

In the Senate, Rosen gave a speech on the Senate floor in favor of quick action on a COVID package.

“The whole country is looking to us to show leadership to save lives and livelihoods.” Rosen said. “Let’s ensure we do not let them down, and pass real relief, thoughtful and targeted relief – right now.”

Rosen also joined the Senate Armed Services Committee following the Senate's approval last week of an organizing resolution for the two-year legislative session that began last month.

“Nevada is the proud home to multiple military bases and installations, and to brave men and women who make up our armed forces,” Rosen said. “I admire and deeply respect the men and women who serve our nation, and I am honored to join the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

Nevada is home to Creech Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Fallon, among other installations.

And Lee, who recently joined the House Appropriations Committee, will sit on the panel’s Energy and Water and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of Energy’s budget. She will also sit on the committee’s Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which oversees the Department of Interior’s budget and the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which oversees a portion of the Pentagon’s budget and the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Meanwhile, the House voted, 230 to 199, to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her committee assignments over comments made in social media posts before her election to Congress. Those posts include ones where she said the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas was staged and liked comments calling for violence against Democrats. 

All of Nevada’s Democrats voted for the resolution. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) had co-sponsored another resolution to expel Greene from the House.

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) voted against the resolution. He conceded that her comments “would not endear her to me as a constituent,” but added that it's up to voters in her district to determine her fate.

Amodei, whose comments come after House Republican leaders decided not to reprimand Greene, also sought to draw an equivalence to comments by Democrats and warned that passage of the resolution would engender an environment of revenge.

“Not only is the hypocrisy acute, but as a result, the culture of political vengeance metastasizes even further,” Amodei said.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.161 A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish a program to assist small business concerns with purchasing cybersecurity products and services, and for other purposes.

S.160 A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish an Innovation Voucher Grant Program.

S.159 A bill to require additional disclosures relating to donations to the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and for other purposes.

S.157 A bill to provide funding for the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use to award grants for the purpose of supporting virtual peer behavioral health support services, and for other purposes.

S.150 A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require the inclusion of certain audio-only diagnoses in the determination of risk adjustment for Medicare Advantage plans, and for other purposes.

S.149A bill to amend title XI of the Social Security Act to provide Secretarial authority to temporarily waive or modify application of certain Medicare requirements with respect to ambulance services furnished during certain emergency periods.

S.148 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.215 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to require certain tax-exempt organizations to include on annual returns the names and addresses of substantial contributors, and for other purposes.

S.205 A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.

S.181 A bill to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Fred Korematsu, in recognition of his dedication to justice and equality.

S.175 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exempt a portion of unemployment compensation received during 2020 from income taxes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.201 A bill to establish a program ensuring access to accredited continuing medical education for primary care physicians and other health care providers at Federally-qualified health centers and rural health clinics, to provide training and clinical support for primary care providers to practice at their full scope and improve access to care for patients in underserved areas.

S.198 A bill to require the Federal Communications Commission to incorporate data on maternal health outcomes into its broadband health maps.

S.176 A bill to require a longitudinal study on the impact of COVID-19.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.205 A bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes.

S.200 A bill to provide State and local workforce and career and technical education systems the support to respond to the COVID-19 national emergency.

S.181 A bill to posthumously award a Congressional Gold Medal to Fred Korematsu, in recognition of his dedication to justice and equality.

S.161 A bill to require the Administrator of the Small Business Administration to establish a program to assist small business concerns with purchasing cybersecurity products and services, and for other purposes.

S.157 A bill to provide funding for the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use to award grants for the purpose of supporting virtual peer behavioral health support services, and for other purposes.

S.148 A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude certain dependent income when calculating modified adjusted gross income for the purposes of eligibility for premium tax credits.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 764 To require full funding of part A of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

H.R. 721 To amend the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend projects relating to children and to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs.

H.R. 707 To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company, in recognition of their unique and highly distinguished service as a "Ghost Army" that conducted deception operations in Europe during World War II.

H.R. 695 To amend title 5, United States Code, to repeal the requirement that the United States Postal Service prepay future retirement benefits, and for other purposes.

H.R. 678 To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide for a moratorium on number reassignment after a disaster declaration, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 707 To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company, in recognition of their unique and highly distinguished service as a "Ghost Army" that conducted deception operations in Europe during World War II.

H.R. 677 To improve and reform policing practices, accountability and transparency.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 764 To require full funding of part A of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 707 To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 23d Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133d Signal Service Company, in recognition of their unique and highly distinguished service as a "Ghost Army" that conducted deception operations in Europe during World War II.

H.R. 765 To require directors of medical centers of the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit annual fact sheets to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the status of such facilities, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 764 To require full funding of part A of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

H.R. 729 To establish the Strength in Diversity Program, and for other purposes.

H.R. 695 To amend title 5, United States Code, to repeal the requirement that the United States Postal Service prepay future retirement benefits, and for other purposes.

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