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Schumer plotting budget reconciliation plan for COVID aid

Chuck Schumer is expected to telegraph, as soon as tonight, that he will use his political muscle to pass some of his party’s priorities — like President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Why it matters: While the Senate majority leader wants to work with Republicans on key legislation, advisers say, he will make clear that using the simple majority vote inherent in the budget reconciliation process is one of the big sticks at his disposal.

Driving the news: For the first time, President Biden today indicated an openness to using reconciliation to help push his plan through Congress, saying the decision is up to the "leaders of the House and the Senate.”

  • Biden also set the clock, saying that he would give the bipartisan approach a couple of weeks but wants Congress to act quickly: “Time is of the essence.”
  • Schumer was expected to outline his own thoughts during an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

How it works: Schumer wouldn’t need any Republican support if he can hold all 50 Democratic-leaning senators, since Vice President Kamala Harris can break any ties in the 50-50 chamber. Under regular rules, he would need 60 votes.

  • "Reconciliation can be a longer process,” said Tamara Fucile, a senior adviser for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But it can still be done over the course of several weeks.”

One big question is whether Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell need to strike a deal on a 50-50 power-sharing agreement before Democrats can move forward with a budget resolution.

  • A Senate leadership aide familiar with the internal talks told Axios they don't: "The bottom line is Democrats have the ability to bring up a budget, and that's all that matters."

Go deeper: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming chair of the Budget Committee, again made the case Sunday for resorting to reconciliation.

  • "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward,” Sanders said on CNN. “We have got to act now.”

Between the lines: Biden’s team has always contemplated using reconciliation twice in a single year: first for an immediate relief plan, and second for an infrastructure and tax package.

  • While the president wants to show Republican senators he’s willing to earn their votes with a good-faith effort toward unity, today he made it clear he'll resort to power politics if necessary.

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