Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday that he thinks there are enough Democratic votes to pass a massive Covid-19 relief package through a process known as reconciliation as the country grapples with the economic fallout of the pandemic.
“I believe that we do,” the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said when asked during an interview with ABC whether he thought there are enough Democratic votes.
“All of us will have differences of opinions, this is a 1.9 trillion dollar bill, I have differences and concerns about this bill, but at the end of the day we are going to support the President of the United States,” Sanders added.
Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has said that Democrats will use the move to pass the package by 51 votes in the Senate, rather than 60, if Republicans don’t move the legislation.
Republicans used the reconciliation process when they attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in 2017 in the Senate. The GOP successfully used the process months later to overhaul the country’s tax code, which passed with just Republican votes.
Bigger stimulus checks, more aid for the unemployed, the hungry and those facing eviction, additional support for small businesses, states and local governments, and increased funding for vaccinations and testing are key parts of a $1.9 trillion proposal that President Joe Biden unveiled earlier this month.
Billed as the American Rescue Plan, the package augments many of the measures in Congress’ historic $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill from March and in the $900 billion legislation from December, which was scaled back to garner support from Senate Republicans.
When asked about Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said this weekend that they are going to look for a bipartisan way to address the relief bill, Sanders said he is still “absolutely confident” that there are enough votes for the reconciliation process.
Democrats have been criticized for ignoring bipartisanship so early on in the Biden administration. Sanders addressed this issue and said there are opportunities for bipartisanship in the future, including on infrastructure, but that the pandemic is too pressing.
“We are going to look forward to working with Republicans, but right now this country faces an unprecedented set of crises,” he said.
The Vermont senator did not rule out working with Republicans, but said that he has not heard better ideas from them so far.
“If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that’s great. But to be honest with you I have not yet heard that,” Sanders said.
His comments come on the same day a group of 10 Republican senators called on Biden to throw his support behind their own Covid-19 relief package framework.
The senators said their framework includes a total of $160 billion for vaccine development and distribution, testing and tracing, and treatment and supplies, including the production and deployment of personal protective equipment.
It would also include a new round of direct payments for “families who need assistance the most,” extend enhanced federal unemployment benefits at the current level and provide $4 billion to bolster behavioral health and substance abuse.
An aide close to the process told CNN the plan is expected to be between $500-$600 billion, though lawmakers are still waiting to hear from the Congressional Budget Office on the estimated cost.