Village News - Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

By Alan Fram
Associated Press 

Minimum wage hike all but dead in big COVID relief bill

 

Last updated 3/3/2021 at 2:18pm



WASHINGTON (AP) – Four days after the chamber's parliamentarian said Senate rules forbid inclusion of a straight-out minimum wage increase in the relief measure, Democrats seemed to have exhausted their most realistic options for quickly salvaging the pay hike but chose to keep the provision in the bill.

“At this moment, we may not have a path, but I hope we can find one” for pushing the federal pay floor to $15 an hour, said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the $15 minimum wage mandate would result in the loss of 1.3 million jobs.

Senate Democrats hope to unveil their version of the broad relief package and begin debate as early as Wednesday. Congressional leaders want to send President Joe Biden the legislation combating the pandemic and bolstering the economy by March 14, the date emergency jobless benefits that lawmakers approved in December expire.

Some Republicans have called the Democrat-backed package “Pelosi’s payoff bill.”

“We ran the numbers – the amount of money that actually goes to defeating the virus is less than 9%. Less than 9%! So don’t call it a rescue bill. Don’t call it a relief bill. Call it the Pelosi payoff,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said prior to the House vote.

Rep. Scalise (R-LA) in an email, alleged that Democrats have rushed to bring to the floor the relief package that “will keep schools closed, bail out blue states, pay people not to work, and raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.”

“Republicans insist that we must safely reopen schools, reopen the economy, speed up vaccine distribution, and effectively spend the remaining $1 trillion from previous COVID-19 packages,” the email from Scalise reads. “However, Democrats rejected hundreds of Republican amendments and any efforts to advance bipartisan solutions that are targeted, temporary, and tied to COVID-19 relief.”

The bill is Biden’s biggest early legislative priority. It looms as an initial test of his ability to unite Democrats in the Senate – where the party has no votes to spare. Republicans are strongly against the legislation and could well oppose it unanimously, as House GOP lawmakers did when that chamber approved the bill early Saturday.

Biden discussed the relief bill Monday in a virtual meeting with nine Senate Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an opponent of the $15 hourly target. A White House statement said the group was “united in the goal of quickly passing a significant package that reflects the scope of the challenges our country is facing.”

The Senate is divided 50-50 between the parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast only tie-breaking votes. Under streamlined rules the Democrats are using, they can approve the legislation with just 51 votes.

The overall bill would provide $1,400 payments to individuals plus hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with children and states willing to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

The group Citizens Against Government Waste reported “the $1.9 trillion dollar package is especially disturbing since $1 trillion from prior COVID-19 relief authorization packages has not been spent yet. The bill is so hyper-partisan that Democrats accepted only two of 286 amendments offered by Republicans in the committees that considered the bill.”

Democrats are considering several changes in the House measure, however they seem modest compared to dropping the minimum wage increase. One top aide said the bill the Senate initially debates won’t have the minimum wage provision in it, saying the language would have pushed the bill over budget-mandated spending limits, violating Senate rules.

Senate Democrats may reshape the $350 billion the bill provides for state and local governments. Republicans argue that the $350 billion rewards blue states that irresponsibly closed businesses.

They also might extend its fresh round of emergency unemployment benefits, which would be $400 weekly, through September instead of August, as the House approved.

The parliamentarian’s interpretation of Senate rules could force other changes as well. These might include dropping or altering provisions in the House bill providing billions of dollars to help some struggling pension plans and to help people who’ve lost jobs afford health insurance.

The House-approved minimum wage language would gradually raise the federal floor to $15 an hour by 2025, more than double the $7.25 in place since 2009.

After the parliamentarian said that provision would have to be deleted, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they were working on plans to increase taxes on large corporations that don't meet certain levels for workers' pay. Sanders is chief Senate sponsor of the $15 plan, while Wyden is chair of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee.

But three Senate aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said Monday that party leaders were dropping those proposals.

It was always questionable whether pressuring companies with tax increases would win enough Democratic support to survive. The White House didn't endorse the tax proposals, which would have affected only a fraction of workers paid the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum has broad support among Democrats. But while it’s embraced passionately by the party’s progressives, at least two Senate moderates – Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – have voiced opposition to including it in the broader relief measure, wounding its prospects and fostering tensions within the party.

The tepid Democratic reaction to the tax plan has left the party looking at potentially pushing a minimum wage increase in future legislation, where it could well face enough GOP opposition to kill it.

Democrats must now decide “how we do minimum wage as part of another piece of legislation or on its own,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

As an alternative, progressives want Senate Democrats to simply overrule the parliamentarian and include the pay raise anyway, or to eliminate Senate filibusters – procedural delays that let a minority party kill legislation that lacks at least 60 votes.

But those ideas seem to lack enough Democratic support to succeed. Senate moderates are wary of erasing procedures that the party has used in the past, and could use again, to protect its priorities when it is in the minority.

Among those who've long supported retaining the filibuster is Biden, who served nearly four decades in the Senate.

“The president’s view on the filibuster is well known. He has not changed that point of view," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said pointedly Monday.

Despite seeming White House opposition, nearly two dozen House progressives tried pressuring Biden to have Harris join Democratic senators and vote to override the parliamentarian and include the increase in the bill anyway.

“Outdated and complex" Senate rules “must not be an impediment to improving people’s lives,” the House members, led by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, wrote in a letter to Biden and Harris. “You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans.”

AP reporter Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

 

Reader Comments(0)

 
 

Our Family of Publications Includes:

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2021

Rendered 06/11/2021 02:48