Democrats rush to pass $1.9 trillion relief bill

Photo by Jackelberry via Pixabay

By Julia Kim
Boston University News Service 

Democrats are racing to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, ahead of the expiration of key relief program assistance later this month.

Congressional leaders want Biden to vote on the package before March 14, when unemployment aid and other assistance programs are set to expire. 

The broad relief bill is Biden’s biggest legislative effort to stabilize the economy and bolster COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts. The bill’s provisions include $1,400 relief checks for individuals, tax breaks for families with children and hundreds of billions of dollars for education, renters and small businesses. 

The aid package is expected to hit the Senate floor this week after passing in the House, notably without $15 an hour minimum wage provision after Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough advised against it. MacDonough, who is tasked with enforcing the rules of the Senate, directed that it did not meet the strict guidelines of budget reconciliation, which would have given Democrats the power to pass the relief plan with 51 Senate votes, instead of the usual 60. 

The provision would have gradually raised the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, more than double the $7.25 minimum last set in 2009.

The vote on the bill will be a test of Biden’s ability to unite the Democratic Party in the Senate, where their slim majority gives them no votes to spare. Senate Republicans are likely to follow House GOP lawmakers in their decision to unanimously opposed the bill Saturday, questioning the need for another massive spending package. 

House Democrats are using reconciliation to fast-track the relief package to the Senate and bypass Republican opposition. This allows some budget-related bills to bypass the filibuster rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation and instead be approved by a simple majority. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., labeled the pay hike as “the soul of the Democratic Party.” He has argued for his fellow party members to ignore MacDonough’s ruling. 

Sanders and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they were working on an alternative approach that would threaten tax increases on large corporations that did not pay their workers a $15 hourly wage. This plan was abandoned as it would only affect a portion of workers and would not likely gain enough traction to gain full Democratic support. 

“A $15 minimum wage is not a radical idea,” Sanders tweeted February 14. “What’s radical is the fact that millions of Americans are forced to work for starvation wages, while 650 billionaires became over $1 trillion richer during a global pandemic. Yes. We must raise the minimum wage to a living wage.”

Sanders has pledged to introduce the $15 minimum wage into the reconciliation process that the bill would undergo before being sent to the President’s desk.

“This week, as part of the reconciliation bill, I will be offering an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.” Sanders tweeted Sunday.

AL, LA, MS, SC,TN do not have a state minimum wage law therefore employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act must pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The livable wage is defined as the income determined to provide a decent standard of living. This is measured by the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs of housing, food, healthcare, and other essential needs. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour does not provide a livable wage in any state. A full-time minimum wage worker following the $7.25 an hour earns about $15,000 annually. 

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