Congress Moves on COVID-19 Relief Through Budget Reconciliation Process


Before taking the oath of office, President Biden announced an extensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic known as the American Rescue Plan – a $1.9 trillion package directed to provide relief amid pandemic impacts.  Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a Congressional budget blueprint that would order key Congressional committees to begin drafting the American Rescue Plan. Democratic Leadership’s ‘budget blueprint’ is known as a budget resolution, a legislative tool available to Congress to quickly pass legislation. Under this process, the following steps occur:

  1. Both the House and Senate passed a budget resolution, which contain reconciliation instructions to House and Senate committees to report, legislation making fiscal changes. A budget resolution is exempt from filibuster in the Senate, needing only a simple majority for approval and must be related to legislation that relates to spending, revenue, or the federal debt limit.
  2. Each House and Senate committee that received reconciliation instructions marks up and approves legislation consistent with its reconciliation directives.
  3. Both the House and Senate Budget Committees collect the reconciliation submissions from each committee that receives instructions, packages them together without change into one bill, and reports that bill to their respective chamber.
  4. The House and Senate then debate and, possibly, amend the reconciliation bills. The House can prohibit amendments to a reconciliation bill, while the Senate has to allow an unlimited number of amendments to be offered and voted on.
  5. A House-Senate conference committee produces one single compromise reconciliation bill, which the House and Senate then pass and the President signs.

Under the current reconciliation instructions, 12 House and 11 Senate authorizing committees (each chamber has jurisdictional differences) develop legislation under the following budget limits for relevant infrastructure committees. Because of the impeachment trial, the Senate has not begun to markup legislation. That being said, key House committees have begun the process:

House Committees:

  • Transportation and Infrastructure – $95 billion. Under this committee’s legislation, $42.5 billion is directed towards transportation with $30 billion being provided as transit agency relief, $8 billion provided for airports, and $1.5 billion provided as Amtrak relief.            
  • Oversight and Reform – $350 million. Under this committee’s legislation, $195 billion is provided for state and local relief and $130 billion is divided evenly between cities and counties.
  • Education and Labor – $357 million
  • Energy and Commerce -$188 million
  • Small Business- $50 billion
  • Ways and Means – $940 billion

 Senate Committees:

  • Banking (transit) – $89 billion
  • Commerce (aviation, rail, ports) – $36 billion
  • Environment and Public Works (highways, bridges) – $3 billion
  • Finance – $1.2 trillion
  • Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions – $305 billion
  • Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs – $51 billion
  • Small Business – $50 billion

While the budget reconciliation process continues on Capitol Hill, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Transportation Secretary Buttigieg met with Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sen. Ben Cardin  (D-MD), and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to discuss the first steps in developing an infrastructure package. While much remains uncertain, EPW is planning to hold a hearing later this month on surface transportation with the final goal of providing a bill before Memorial Day.

Additional COVID-19 relief is critical to support our nation’s infrastructure system. As Congress moves towards economic recovery, ASCE continues to urge lawmakers to make strong investments to ensure we have an infrastructure system fit for the 21st century.   As Congress continues to address the needs of the nation and the profession in the next relief package, ASCE will continue to work closely with Congress and the Administration to ensure our communities receive the relief they so desperately need.

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