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January 25, 2021

What to expect in Washington (January 25)

Still two big question marks for Democrats in Congress trying to move President Biden's agenda:

  • There's no clear path for advancing Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID/stimulus plan.
  • Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have not reached a power-sharing agreement and organizing resolution with rules for how Senate business is to be conducted.


National Economic Council Director Brian Deese met virtually with 16 centrist senators of both parties regarding the stimulus plan on Sunday, January 24, and reports said issues discussed included:

  • the possibility of targeting the proposed $1,400 stimulus checks to those most in need
  • prioritizing funding for vaccine development and distribution

Senators expressed concerns about the cost and scope of the plan, the Washington Post reported. "Participants also asked administration officials to justify the need for hundreds of billions allocated for other purposes," with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) asking for justification for a package as large as $1.9 trillion, and Senator Angus King (I-ME) saying, "This isn't Monopoly money … Every dollar that we're talking about here is being borrowed from our grandchildren."

There are essentially three options for advancing additional relief/stimulus:

  1. a big bipartisan bill, which requires 60 Senate votes
  2. a partisan reconciliation bill, which requires 50 Senate votes plus the Vice President and cannot include all parts of Biden's plan (e.g., $15 minimum wage and extension of eviction/foreclosure moratoria)
  3. a smaller bipartisan bill, maybe limited to vaccine distribution funding and $1,400 stimulus checks

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) also expressed cost concerns and has expressed a preference for employment-based assistance over stimulus checks, or at least ensuring checks are sufficiently targeted. His lack of backing thus far imperils prospects for acting through the budget reconciliation process. Democrats are trying to win bipartisan support, but some don't want to wait long before turning to reconciliation:

  • Punchbowl News reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday night "that she wanted to pass Biden's COVID relief bill in two weeks using budget reconciliation" (but has to wait because the Senate isn't yet organized).
  • Incoming Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said on CNN January 24: "We're going to use reconciliation — that is 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now."
  • The Sunday Washington Post cited Ways & Means member Suzan DelBene (D-WA) as saying of Republicans standing in the way of more COVID relief for much of 2020 until the year-end bill, "We can't let that happen again."

Senators involved in the centrist group are understood to be:

Dick Durbin (D-IL)

Bill Cassidy (R-LA)

Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

Susan Collins (R-ME)

John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

Mark Kelly (D-AZ)

Jerry Moran (R-KS)

Angus King (I-ME)

Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Joe Manchin (D-WV)

Mitt Romney (R-UT)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Rob Portman (R-OH)

Mark Warner (D-VA)

Todd Young (R-IN)

 Sharing power

The impediment to a Senate power-sharing deal: Senator McConnell wants the agreement to provide that the legislative filibuster will remain intact during the power-sharing for the next two years, and Democrats say that issue doesn't need to be addressed in this context. Without an organizing resolution, Republicans technically remain in control of most Senate committees.

The Washington Post reported that the fact that nonbudgetary matters can't be addressed under reconciliation, including parts of climate change legislation, expansions of civil rights and voting access, etc., "compound the already immense pressure" to end the filibuster rule.

Also influencing the Senate schedule, the House today (Monday) will transmit the "Article of Impeachment for Donald Trump to the Senate." The Senate trial is set to begin the week of February 8. This allows for the Senate to consider additional Biden administration nominees and, potentially, COVID relief legislation.


A Senate vote on Janet Yellen's Treasury Secretary nomination is at 5:30 p.m. today (Monday).


The Wall Street Journal said that, regarding the Biden administration approach to trade, "No longer would American negotiators focus on opening markets for financial-service firms, pharmaceutical companies and other companies whose investments abroad don't directly boost exports or jobs at home." The report cited some prominent Democrats as arguing against some priorities in trade policy in recent years like intellectual property protections, and Biden US Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai as saying the new administration wants a "worker-centered trade policy," not one focused on corporate competitiveness.

The article noted, "Those views are reflected in Mr. Biden's tax proposals, which are intended to prod U.S. companies to keep jobs at home rather than easing investment overseas."

President Biden today (Monday) is expected to detail in an executive order his Buy American plan, which during the campaign was proposed (in July 2020) to include $400 billion in procurement that is intended to spur new demand for American products, materials and services. 


Contact Information
For additional information concerning this Alert, please contact:
Washington Council Ernst & Young
   • Ray Beeman (
   • Gary Gasper (
   • Heather Meade (
   • Kurt Ritterpusch (