This week: Senate takes up coronavirus relief after minimum wage setback
The Senate is expected to take up a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this week, after a key official dealt a blow to hopes of using the legislation to increase the minimum wage.
The House passed the COVID-19 legislation over the weekend with language included that would hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.
But that language is expected to be stripped out in the Senate after the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, advised key offices that the language does not comply with budget rules that govern reconciliation, the process lawmakers are using to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
The decision sparked fierce pushback from progressives lawmakers and outside groups, who renewed calls to either nix the legislative filibuster or overrule the parliamentarian. Neither option has the support of enough Senate Democrats, and the White House has signaled it will respect the minimum wage ruling.
In another blow to progressives, top Senate Democrats nixed a “Plan B,” floated in the wake of the parliamentarian’s ruling, to penalize large corporations that don’t pay their workers a certain amount. A source familiar told The Hill that there were concerns that ironing out the back-up plan would have slowed down the overall coronavirus relief bill.
Democrats want to get the bill signed into law before mid-March, when federal unemployment benefits will expire.
To get the bill through the Senate, Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will need the support of all 50 members of his caucus plus Vice President Harris to break a tie.
No Republicans are expected to support the bill, which passed the House with opposition from every Republican and two Democrats.
Those are defections Schumer can’t afford in the Senate, and he’ll need to hold his caucus together in a likely hours-long vote-a-rama where any senator who wants to try to change the coronavirus bill will be able to force a vote.
Republicans were able to successfully offer amendments to last month’s budget resolution, which greenlit the coronavirus bill. They’ll be looking to mirror those efforts by making changes to the relief legislation during the Senate’s debate.
“I think you got a little bit of a preview, but the budget resolution isn’t law. … This will be, so I think you can expect a robust amendment process,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), about what to expect.
There are also bipartisan discussions ongoing about making changes to the phase-out structure of the $1,400 stimulus check.
Because the Senate is expected to strip out the minimum wage language, the bill is going to have to go back to the House for a second vote either way.
Progressives haven’t yet said if they will support the bill without the wage increase and are keeping a close eye on additional potential changes coming from the Senate.
“Let’s see what the package is going to look like. I always hate to give answers before I know what the package is going to look like. … If it’s watered down, that’s a whole different issue, so we just have to see what it ends up as,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
The House is slated to take up a sweeping elections reform bill that has been met with strong resistance from Republicans.
The legislation includes language that looks to expand voting rights, implement new ethics rules and increase transparency in elections, according to its proponents.
It includes provisions that would enable automatic voter registration and enhance resources to stave off foreign threats on elections. Supporters of the bill argue it’s necessary to tackle corruption and expose dark money in politics. Under the legislation, the Citizens United Supreme County ruling would be overturned and super PACs and candidates would be prohibited from any type of coordination.
“This legislation, which the House passed in 2019, is the centerpiece of Democrats’ agenda to make government more transparent and accountable to the people it serves,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter earlier this month.
“From protecting voting rights to reforming campaign finance, from requiring higher ethical standards for public officials to engaging in nonpartisan redistricting reform, H.R. 1 aims to renew Americans’ faith that their government will always work for the people,” he said.
GOP lawmakers have blasted the bill as a power grab by Democrats, arguing it limits free speech and overreaches on states rights. Republicans have also slammed language that would create a 6-to-1 federal campaign match on small donations, arguing it misuses taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes.
“No, I don’t have the most to lose: The American public have the most to lose because we would lose our freedom,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News on Sunday.
“When you put a bill into Congress, the majority party reserves the first numbers. This is H.R. 1, so this is most important for Nancy Pelosi to hold on to her power,” he said.
The legislation passed the lower chamber in a 234-193 party-line vote last March.
The bill can’t pass in the Senate because it needs 60 votes to overcome the filibuster.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized the legislation last week, calling it an attempt to “grab unprecedented power over how America conducts its elections and how American citizens can engage in political speech.”
Senate Democrats would need 10 GOP senators to support the bill in order for it to pass. A version of the bill, formally titled the For the People Act, that was filed last year got no GOP co-sponsors in the Senate.
House Democrats will vote this week on police reform legislation named after George Floyd, a black man killed last year when a white police officer knelt on his neck.
The bill, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, includes an overhaul of qualified immunity, which shields police officers from civil lawsuits, bans chokeholds at the federal level and bans no-knock warrants in federal drug cases.
It would also establish a national registry of police misconduct maintained by the Department of Justice.
The House initially passed the bill last year but it stalled in the then-GOP-controlled Senate. Senate Republicans instead tried to bring up a bill from Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican senator, but it was blocked by Democrats.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged late last week that the House bill is likely a non-starter in the Senate, where it’s unlikely to get GOP support.
But, she added, House Democrats are moving forward with passing a bill they support even if it faces an uncertain fate across the Capitol.
“What the Senate will do is what the Senate will do, but we will send over the bill that has the balance that we have in it,” she told reporters.
The Senate will keep making headway this week with advancing and confirming President Biden’s nominees.
The Senate will hold a final vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m. on Miguel Cardona to be secretary of Education, followed by an initial vote on Gina Raimondo’s nomination to be secretary of Commerce.
Schumer has also filed cloture on Cecilia Rouse’s nomination to be chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a vote on Monday afternoon to send Merrick Garland’s attorney general nomination to the full Senate.
The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on Shalanda Young’s nomination to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The hearing comes as Neera Tanden’s nomination to lead OMB is on life support. CNN reported that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will meet with Tanden on Monday.
Murkowski is viewed as the only remaining GOP swing vote and, because of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s (W.Va.) opposition, Tanden will need the support of at least one GOP senator in order to keep her nomination alive.