Finance

Democrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian

Democratic senators on Thursday said that they don't know if the Senate parliamentarian will allow the final version of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to include a provision that would direct the Treasury Department to make advance payments of the child tax credit (CTC) on a monthly basis.

The version of the relief package that the House is expected to pass this week would direct Treasury to establish a program to make monthly payments of the credit between July and December.

Lawmakers are using the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill, so that the measure only needs a simple majority to pass the Senate. Under a Senate rule, reconciliation bills can't include provisions that don't have an impact on the federal budget, or only have an impact on the budget that is "merely incidental" to the provision's nonbudgetary aspects.

When asked during a press call Thursday if the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, is going to determine that the monthly payments of the CTC don't meet the Senate reconciliation rules, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, "We hope not, but we don't give up if she does."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) added, "I don't think we think that she will. I think we don't know."

The provision on monthly payments of the CTC is not the only part of the relief package that MacDonough will be examining in the coming days to ensure they adhere to Senate rules. Most prominently, she will have to determine whether a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour follows the rules.

In addition to directing Treasury to make advance payments of the CTC, the relief package also would increase the CTC amount for 2021 from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for other children, and it would make the credit fully refundable so that the lowest-income households can qualify for the full credit amount.

Even if MacDonough rules against the portion on monthly payments, the portions to increase the credit amount and expand refundability are likely to make it into the final version of the relief bill. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the CTC expansion in the House bill would cost about $110 billion over a decade, and Republicans passed their 2017 tax-cut law that included an increase of the CTC amount through reconciliation.

Senate Democrats in a press call on Thursday touted the proposed CTC expansion along with provisions in the bill to expand the earned income tax credit (EITC), which benefits low- and middle-income households. They said that the provisions would help significantly to reduce poverty.

"This bill will do more to eliminate poverty just about than anything's that's happened in a very long time," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "These are two very powerful and highly effective poverty tools that Senate Democrats are fighting to expand in the COVID relief package."

During the call, the left-leaning groups Data for Progress and Groundwork Action presented polling data that majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support expansions of the CTC and EITC.

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