Democrats are on track to pass President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan in the House by Friday night, a major milestone on the way to hitting their mid-March target for turning the $1.9 trillion package into law — and fulfilling a key priority for the White House.
The tally is expected to divide along party lines, with Republican lawmakers taking the calculated political risk of opposing the relief measure. But Democrats will face their more serious struggles after Friday’s vote to send the package across the Capitol, thanks to a Thursday night ruling that bars them from using the pandemic bill to get their long-sought minimum wage increase through the Senate on a simple majority vote.
The Covid-19 aid bill would send $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans, boost unemployment payments and increase the Child Tax Credit, as well as provide billions of dollars in aid to small businesses, states and efforts to test and vaccinate against the coronavirus.
Five weeks into Biden’s presidency, Democratic leaders remain dogged in their effort to fulfill his pricey ambitions to beat back the coronavirus and buttress the U.S. economy while more than 10 million Americans remain unemployed. Still, it could be at least another week or two before the new president’s legislative proposal clears Congress and lands on his desk. Democrats say Biden must sign the bill before March 14, a critical deadline for federal unemployment aid.
Guaranteeing the package will ping-pong between the House and Senate at least three times, Democrats in the lower chamber have decided not to strip out language that would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from their version of the bill. That provision is almost guaranteed to fall off of the bill in the Senate, where the parliamentarian ruled late Thursday that the wage increase does not work under budget rules Democrats are invoking to pass the stimulus package with a simple majority.
Senate Democrats have opted against moving to cut a bipartisan deal that would attract enough Republican support to clear under a 60-vote threshold.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said retaining the language for House passage sends a signal to U.S. workers that Democrats will find a way to enact the wage increase despite its dashed chances in the relief package at hand.
“Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight For 15,” Pelosi said in a statement Thursday night.
House Democratic leaders are confident they will clear the bill later Friday evening. Still, not every Democrat will support the measure.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who belongs to the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, said he was “leaning no,” citing new spending for programs he saw unrelated to the pandemic or unnecessary for higher-income families.
“The child care tax credits aren’t targeted to low-income [families]. People at $400,000 can get those,” Schrader said. “And minimum wage — I mean, c’mon, man. You want people to hire folks back, you don’t say you’re going to raise the minimum wage.”
To facilitate Senate passage, Democrats will need to ditch the minimum wage language and endure another amendment spree like the nearly 15-hour “vote-a-rama” that kept senators on the floor until after 5 a.m. earlier this month as they set up the speedier process of advancing the stimulus under special budget rules.
The Congressional Budget Office also said Thursday that Biden’s package would later trigger a $36 billion cut to Medicare as a result of pay-as-you-go rules, which require Congress to offset the cost of each piece of legislation.
Democrats have so far shrugged off that threat, and both parties have repeatedly voted to waive the rule and avoid the cuts with other major reconciliation packages.
But any effort to avoid the slicing will require support from at least 10 Senate Republicans, who could decide to use the cuts for leverage in order to exact policy wins.
Jennifer Scholtes contributed to this report.