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House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package

The House is set for an early Saturday morning vote on the sprawling House Democratic $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

The measure was being considered Friday evening in a marathon Rules Committee meeting before going to the floor. That sets up an early Saturday morning vote, unless the House decides to take a break and postpone the floor vote until later on Saturday.

House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthDemocrats see political winner in tax fight McConnell knocks Kentucky Democrat over support for nixing filibuster Democrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP MORE (D-Ky.) told reporters it was possible the vote could be pushed to later on Saturday.

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While most Democrats support the bill, they can only afford up to four defections with their thin 221-seat majority.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Republicans ask Pelosi to reschedule Biden's address to Congress This week: Democrats move on DC statehood Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Md.) predicted Friday that Democrats would pass the legislation overwhelmingly with “maybe” one or two defections.

“But we're gonna pass it handily,” Hoyer said.

The vote is expected to fall almost entirely along party lines with no Republicans expected to back the measure.

The wide-ranging legislation includes continuations of pandemic relief measures that Congress began enacting nearly a year ago, including another round of stimulus checks to individuals, this time of up to $1,400 and a renewal of emergency unemployment insurance before it expires on March 14 that increases it from the current extra $300 per week to $400.

Other provisions include $350 billion for state and local governments, $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen for in-person classroom instruction, $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, and an expansion of the child tax credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under 6 years of age. 

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The House version also includes an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15.

One potential defector is Rep. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderBlue Dogs push House leadership to allow more member input Democratic majority shrinks, but finds unity Biden on precipice of first big win MORE (Ore.), who is the only remaining Democrat who voted against a 2019 bill to increase the minimum wage to $15. The other five Democrats who voted against the minimum wage hike at the time lost reelection in November.

Schrader told The Hill on Friday afternoon that he might vote against the COVID-19 relief package in part because of the minimum wage hike. He prefers a regionally adjusted minimum wage rather than changing the federal statutory level.

“The one-size-fits-all is what really would cripple small businesses in my district and lead to massive unemployment,” Schrader said.

He further added that the House version is “going nowhere” and “a messaging bill that serves no purpose.”

“It'll be up to the Senate hopefully to use some common sense and tailor it down, target it to those that need it,” Schrader said.

Another possible defection is Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who voted against the budget resolution earlier this month that provided the framework for the pandemic relief legislation. 

Democrats are pushing forward with the COVID-19 relief package using a budget process known as reconciliation that will allow them to circumvent a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday that the minimum wage increase does not comply with the budget reconciliation rules, delivering a blow to progressives who had pushed for using the pandemic relief package as a vehicle for one of their top legislative priorities.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | Don't attack Zoom for its Bernie Sanders federal tax bill Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (I-Vt.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE (D-Ore.) have proposed an alternative minimum wage proposal to be included in the pandemic relief bill that would penalize corporations that pay workers below $15 per hour while providing incentives for small businesses to raise workers’ wages.

Wyden said Friday that his proposal would impose a five percent penalty on large corporations’ payroll if workers earn less than a certain amount and provide an income tax credit equal to 25 percent of wages — up to $10,000 annually per employer — to small businesses that pay workers higher wages.

So far, House Democratic leaders and the White House have been noncommittal about supporting the Wyden and Sanders proposals.

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While the previous rounds of pandemic relief last year were bipartisan measures negotiated in divided government between Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration, this time Democrats are bypassing the GOP now that they control Congress and the White House.

Republicans delayed proceedings late into Friday by filing more than 200 amendments to the legislation, which prolonged a House Rules Committee hearing preceding the floor vote for several hours. None of the GOP amendments are expected to get clearance by Democrats for floor votes.

The Senate is expected to take up the relief package next week and send it back to the House with amendments. The House would then pass the Senate-amended version before sending it to Biden for his signature before the unemployment insurance benefits expire on March 14.