Pandemic Relief Plan May Create a Dilemma for the Senate

January 15, 2021

President-elect Biden’s COVID response plan would likely set up a debate in the 50-50 Senate over the filibuster rule if soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) cannot get the 60 votes needed to enact it.

First of two plans:  A second bill, the Build Back Better Recovery Plan, is expected to be unveiled in February at the State of the Union Address.  It will include proposals on job creation, climate change, infrastructure, and advancing social equity.

Components of the relief plan that do not involve taxes or federal spending are subject to a filibuster in the Senate, with 60 votes required for enactment. 

If 60 votes cannot be reached, will Congress and the President-elect work with the GOP to craft a compromise that will get 60 votes in the Senate? 

Alternatively, will the Senate change the filibuster rules, perhaps under some national emergency exception, to push through a bill with 51 votes?  Notwithstanding what we have heard from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) regarding his desire to keep the filibuster, would he object to a one-time exception for COVID relief?

These questions will be sorted out in the coming weeks.  The answers could have significant impact for policymaking going forward.