Democrats’ sprint to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package ahead of the March 14 expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits is more akin to a relay race. The House of Representatives, as expected, approved the plan early Saturday morning, passing the baton to the Senate, where the legislation will face a fresh set of hurdles.
The final vote in the House was 219-212, with two Democrats, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jared Golden of Maine, joining all Republicans in voting against the bill. Democrats can’t afford even one defection in the evenly divided Senate. They’re using a budget reconciliation process that will allow the bill to pass with a simple majority vote, but all 50 Senate Republicans are expected to oppose the package.
To get Democrats on the same page, President Biden held a virtual meeting on Monday afternoon with a group of centrists from his party, including some who have questioned whether the $350 billion provided in the rescue package for state and local governments could be better targeted (see more below on the state aid).
No minimum wage hike … at least for now: The Senate version of the bill will look different than the House-passed package. The House included an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in its version of the legislation and did so even after the Senate parliamentarian ruled last week that the provision doesn’t meet the requirements for inclusion in that chamber under the reconciliation process.
Progressives are urging the White House to have Vice President Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, overrule the parliamentarian. “Outdated Senate rules and an unelected parliamentarian should not get to decide whether the American people get a $15 minimum wage,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D- WI) said in a statement.
But the White House has made clear it won’t pursue that path. “That’s not an action we intend to take,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, adding that Democrats don’t have the 50 Senate votes that would be required for the maneuver.
So the Senate will strip out the minimum wage hike, and it also won’t include an alternative proposal from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden that would have taxed corporations that didn't increase wages on their own. Democrats abandoned that Plan B over the weekend after it proved too problematic.
The political reality: Removing the minimum wage provision probably helps the White House in its efforts to pass the relief package, given that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona opposed the increase. But the revised Senate package will get sent back to the House, where the exclusion of the minimum wage hike could still complicate the outlook. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Friday she was confident that Democrats could pass a relief bill without the minimum wage hike, but she’ll have to show that she can hold her narrow majority together to do it.
Psaki said Monday that raising the minimum wage remains a priority for Biden but the White House has no plan yet on how to accomplish that goal.
What’s next: An initial Senate vote on the relief plan reportedly could take place as early as Wednesday.