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House to vote on $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill this week as Senate considers minimum wage hike

Rep. Andy Levin on COVID relief, minimum wage
Congressman Andy Levin on $15 minimum wage and COVID relief 10:23

Washington — The House is expected to approve President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal later this week in a party-line vote, after the House Budget Committee advanced the bill on Monday. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Tuesday evening that the House would vote on the legislation on Friday.

Although the narrow Democratic majority in the House will likely pass the bill as is, it's unclear whether a provision raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 will be included in the final Senate version of the legislation.

The bill, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to Americans making under $75,000, extra money for vaccine distribution and funding to state and local governments, was approved by the Budget Committee on Monday by a vote of 19 to 16. Congressman Lloyd Doggett was the sole Democrat to join Republicans in voting against the bill, although a spokesperson for Doggett later said in a statement that his "no" vote was a mistake and he "supports the COVID-19 relief legislation."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday that he believed the final bill would be passed by March 14, which is the day that enhanced unemployment benefits established by relief legislation passed at the end of last year are set to expire.

"We're going to meet that deadline," Schumer said, adding that the final bill will be "not exactly the same, but very close to the bill that President Biden proposed."

Republicans have balked at the price tag on the bill, and expressed consternation that Democrats are using a process known as budget reconciliation to pass the bill, which will allow it to pass in the Senate without any Republican votes. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy slammed the bill on Wednesday, calling it "too costly, too corrupt and too liberal."

"I haven't seen a Republican yet that found something in there that they would agree with," McCarthy said.

It is easier for bills to pass along party lines in the House than it is in the Senate. Most legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate, and Democrats hold a narrow 50-seat majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking vote. Budget reconciliation would allow for Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority.

However, there are strict rules for utilizing the budget reconciliation process, such as the "Byrd rule," which requires that all provisions in the bill be budget-related, and must not increase the federal deficit after a 10-year budget window. Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, who advises the Senate on procedural matters, will have to rule on whether the $15 minimum wage can be included under the Byrd rule.

Senate Democratic and Republican staffers are expected to meet with the parliamentarian this week to make their arguments for and against including the minimum wage provision.

"We're going to await her judgment before we go any further," Schumer said Tuesday about MacDonough.

However, even if the parliamentarian rules against including the minimum wage, Senate Democrats could take the controversial step of waiving that decision.

But if MacDonough does rule that the minimum wage hike can be included in the final bill, that provision has faced pushback from Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, complicating the prospects of it passing in the Senate. Manchin has suggested amending the legislation to instead raise the minimum wage to $11.

"$11 is the right place to be," he told reporters on Monday. "Throwing $15 out there right now just makes it very difficult in rural America."

Schumer told reporters that Democrats had "great unity" since taking the majority in January, adding that he had spoken to members of his caucus about the importance of passinga. relief bill.

If the minimum wage provision was excised from the relief bill, it's possible that the Senate could reach a compromise on a separate bill raising the minimum wage. Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton introduced a bill Tuesday to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2025. However, the bill includes stricter penalties for employers who hire undocumented immigrants, which would likely be a poison pill for most Democrats.

Raising the minimum wage is widely popular, with a 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center showing that 67% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15. It even has support in some red states, as demonstrated by a ballot initiative in Florida to increase the minimum wage increase to $15 by 2026 which passed with support from more than 60% of voters in the last election. Progressive Democrats may opt to take a hard line on the minimum wage increase, and refuse to support the bill unless it includes a $15 minimum wage, creating a showdown with more moderate members of the party.

"Why don't we ever ask moderates to compromise?" progressive Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna asked in a tweet on Monday. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said in a tweet on Monday that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour "IS COVID relief."

Senator Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, has repeatedly expressed confidence that the parliamentarian will rule in favor of allowing the minimum wage hike, and that it will pass in the Senate with support from all Democrats.

"I think the Democrats are going to support the president of the United States and the overwhelming majority of the American people want to pass this COVID emergency bill," Sanders told reporters on Monday. "I think we're going to pass it as is."

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