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Democrats face defining moment on minimum wage in upcoming COVID-19 bill

WASHINGTON – Democrats are quickly approaching a watershed moment to establish a national minimum wage of $ 15 an hour and provide more relief against COVID-19, with the House due to pass a bill later this week with a thin margin and the Senate expected to take action soon after.

Amid all the talk of political “unity”, Democrats face their first real political test of harmony within their own ranks. It remains unclear whether their leaders – both in the House and the Senate – can bring their caucuses together to pass a $ 1.9 trillion bill that includes a minimum wage hike.

A senior Democratic official said it was “certainly possible” that some Republicans would support the bill, but it is difficult to count on them. A few Republicans might ultimately vote for the measure – or, more likely, wait and see if Democrats can pass it on their own before joining them in favor of the package. And in the House, with just a five-vote majority, Democrats can’t afford many defections.

A $ 1.9 trillion bill without an increase in the minimum wage would already be a difficult task for President Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). A number of politically vulnerable Democrats at times seek to break away from leaders and strengthen their credentials as fiscal conservatives. And the overall cost of the legislation may still be too high for these lawmakers, even though Democratic leaders have already cracked down on high-income households receiving direct relief payments in order to quash a Republican talking point on this issue.

But the potential inclusion of a minimum wage of $ 15 – which could then still be withdrawn by the Senate parliamentarian due to that chamber’s rules of procedure or removed by Senate Democratic leadership due to insufficient support – makes the passage of the bill even more difficult. The increase would be gradual, starting at $ 9.50 and reaching $ 15 over four years.

Still, House Democrats remain optimistic about the passage prospects. For the most part, no significant public opposition has emerged from moderate Democrats, and polls show the public remains in favor of yet another rescue bill. Democratic House leaders are also notorious for getting their members online, and they have until the end of the week to round up the votes they need.


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Service industry workers at a January 26 rally in Washington express their support for raising the national minimum wage to $ 15 an hour.

The Senate, which Democrats control because Vice President Kamala Harris can break the 50-50 tie between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, presents an even more difficult challenge to the minimum wage proposal. And that could influence the House vote.

Senses. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) Have previously said they oppose the inclusion of a $ 15 minimum wage in the COVID-19 package signaling that getting an invoice containing this provision on President Joe Biden’s desk seems extremely difficult. Manchin met with activists and workers in his state who advocated higher wages last week, but his opposition remained unchanged. As a result, moderate Democrats in Hosue who have also expressed reservations about the salary increase may not want to officially declare their support for an hourly hike if it is simply going to be removed from a bill in the Senate or fail when of a vote.

House leaders are waiting for Senate parliamentarian to know whether the fiscal impact of the increase in the minimum wage is sufficient for it to be included in a remedial bill that could be passed as part of the reconciliation process budget – meaning it could be passed by simple majority instead of needing 60 votes to overcome a systematic obstruction. Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), One of the main supporters of the minimum wage increase, said over the weekend that he was “confident” that the wage increase would survive the scrutiny of parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough.

On the other hand, if MacDonough decides that the proposal does not have enough budgetary impact to be included in a reconciliation bill, it could facilitate passage of the bill in the House and Senate. But that would come at the expense of a pay rise for 27 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Either way, Democrats are rushing to get a COVID relief bill at Biden’s office by mid-March, when federal unemployment benefits for more than 11 million workers begin to expire. The bill would maintain federal programs for small workers and the long-term unemployed until August, and increase the federal supplement from $ 300 to $ 400 per week.

Publicly, congressional staff members have expressed an unusual sense of optimism that elements of the relief package other than the minimum wage provision should be allowed to pass without a hitch. Significant parts of the bill went through marathons in House committees with the unanimous approval of Democrats.

And already, more cautious voices have spoken in favor of the package. Most notably, Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat who represents the swing outside Pittsburgh – and who would have been a contender for the Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2022 – was very supportive of this. Lamb told HuffPost that the efforts in this crisis had to be “bigger and stronger” than the relief provided in 2009 to deal with the Great Recession.

That said, Pelosi doesn’t have much leeway. There are a lot of political points to be gained for a vulnerable Democrat who stands up to his party and demands a more conservative budget package. And there is a potential political liability for House Democrats to be asked to support a package that includes a minimum wage increase without knowing whether that provision can even be included in the Senate bill.

In addition to the uncertainty over the minimum wage, questions surround the ultimate fate of another provision: the expansion of the child tax credit.

The bill would increase the maximum credit value from $ 2,000 to $ 3,600 and eliminate its revenue requirement. Low-income households would therefore benefit even if they do not have a job. The bill would also order the Internal Revenue Service to distribute the money up front, on a monthly basis, meaning it would essentially create a child allowance for the vast majority of parents in the United States.

A child allowance would revolutionize the US government’s relationship with parents. The extra money would reduce child poverty and the monthly payments would be much more useful than the annual repayments at tax time.

But the bill only extends credit for one year. Democrats are expected to pass another bill to make the changes permanent, which they avoided doing in the relief bill in order to keep the overall cost of the measure below $ 2 trillion.

Republican leaders attack the bill as a gift to progressives. Rep Steve Scalise (R-La.) Said it doesn’t matter if the invoice is extremely popular.

“You don’t have to be a good pollster in Washington to ask the question, ‘Hey, would you like the federal government to send you a check for $ 3,500?’ Of course, the answer will be yes,” he said. said Scalise on Sunday.

Republicans will work this week to achieve their own unity and thwart a Democratic talking point – that the bill enjoys bipartisan support.

To do this, they will need to keep all of their members in compliance with laws that enjoy strong public support. He could ultimately ask too much of the few remaining moderate Republicans in Congress to oppose a bill sending out yet another round of relief checks, providing $ 440 billion to state and local governments, $ 160 billion to vaccine rollout, $ 130 billion more to help schools reopen, money for healthcare for laid-off workers – just like the expanded child tax credit and extended unemployment benefits.

But GOP leaders may be able to prevent their members from voting for the bill until Democrats have formed their own majority. So even if some Republicans ultimately back the package and passes it with voices to spare, the fate of the legislation could have been much closer than it looked.

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