White House noncommittal on ‘Plan B’ push to add wage increase to relief bill

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The White House was noncommittal Friday in its response to a plan from leading Senate Democrats that would include an alternative approach to raising the minimum wage in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill making its way through Congress.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Friday floated a “Plan B” to impose a tax on big corporations that paid their workers less than $15 an hour after the Senate Parliamentarian ruled that the initial wage hike provision could not be included in the bill for procedural reasons.

While the White House on Friday didn’t oppose the alternative plan, its response wasn’t a ringing endorsement either, saying the focus should be on passing a bill quickly.

“We recognize there will be continued conversation on this proposal and others as the legislative process plays out over the coming days,” a White House spokesperson said. “Meanwhile our focus will be on the urgent priority of getting this package passed and delivering the relief that is so desperately needed — $1,400 rescue checks for most Americans, funding to get this virus under control, aid to get our schools reopened and desperately needed help for the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis.”

Democrats are racing to pass the legislation before March 14, when emergency unemployment programs expire, potentially leaving millions with no income amid the pandemic.

Negotiations over the specifics of the Plan B approach risk delaying passage until after mid-March.

But proponents of the alternative approach say Democrats have to deliver on their campaign promises one way or another.

“The American people elected Democrats to get things done, and they aren’t going to accept ‘process’ as an excuse for failing to deliver on an overwhelmingly popular policy,” Wyden said. “We couldn’t get in the front door or the back door, so we’ll try to go through the window.”

Still, questions remain as to whether the approach could win approval from centrist Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposed the broader $15 minimum wage hike even before the parliamentarian’s ruling on Thursday.

The White House said it was committed to fighting for a fair wage increase.

Meanwhile, five Senate Republicans have signed on to a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour and tighten enforcement against hiring workers in the country illegally.

The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009, when it was set at $7.25.

Tags Bernie Sanders Joe Manchin Ron Wyden
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