The House passed a budget resolution Wednesday, a key step as Democrats push toward a vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Approval of the measure allows Congress to move forward with reconciliation, through which Democrats can pass an aid bill without Republican support. The Senate is expected to approve a resolution later this week.
Reflecting the partisan divide over the relief plan, the House passed the resolution in a 218-212 vote. Two Democrats voted against it, while no Republicans supported it.
Once both chambers pass a resolution, Democrats will set out to craft the rescue package they hope to pass in the coming weeks. Using reconciliation, the party can avoid the Senate filibuster and pass a bill with a simple majority.
However, challenges await as Democrats cannot afford a single defection and reconciliation rules restrict what they can include in a bill. Democrats aim to approve a new aid package before March 14, when a $300 per week unemployment insurance supplement buoying millions of Americans will expire.
Congress is expected to write a bill reflecting President Joe Biden's framework. His proposal calls for $1,400 direct payments for most Americans, a $400 per week jobless benefit through September, a $20 billion vaccination program and $350 billion in support for state and local governments, among a range of other policies.
Biden called into a House Democratic caucus meeting and met with Senate Democratic committee chairs Wednesday as he called for urgency in passing a rescue bill. While party leaders have said they hope to win Republican votes, it appears doubtful the GOP will support nearly $2 trillion in spending.
Senate Democrats would need to win 10 Republican votes to pass a bill under the regular process. The task appears difficult, as a group of GOP senators who met with the president countered his proposal with a $618 billion plan.
Despite the gap, Biden on Wednesday said, "I think we'll get some Republicans."
Republicans have questioned the need for the amount of spending in Biden's plan after Congress passed a $900 billion relief plan in December. GOP lawmakers have also criticized their counterparts for moving forward with the process that will allow them to pass a partisan bill.
Republicans tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then succeeded in passing their tax law, through reconciliation in 2017.
House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, D-Ky., defended the process in a statement following the vote.
"While bipartisan talks continue, today's passage of the 2021 budget resolution ensures that we have another path to enacting President Biden's American Rescue Plan," he said. "The American people cannot wait, and Congress cannot slow down our response to these urgent crises while Republicans decide if they want to help or not."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found more than two-thirds of Americans support the $1.9 trillion relief plan, $1,400 direct payments and a $15 per hour minimum wage. Democrats support the $15 pay floor as part of the proposal, but reconciliation rules may prevent them from including it in the final bill.