stimulus, senate, wage
President Biden speaks during a meeting with Vice President Harris, Speaker of the House Pelosi, and the Chairs of the House committees to discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office. Earlier in the day the Senate approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package. (STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Senate Supports $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Package, But Blocks Minimum Wage Increase

Early Friday morning, the Senate voted to back President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package through a budget resolution — a tactic that allowed the proposal to be passed via a simple 51–50 majority rather than the 60 typically used to pass other measures. Democrats were all in favor of passing it, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker, while no GOP members supported it.

Throughout the session that lasted all night, Democrats moved through a series of amendments Republicans attempted to attach to the budget plan. Democrats also endorsed a proposal to exclude high-earners from the $1,400 payments and create a new form of child allowance for low- and middle- income families, The New York Times reports. The definition of “high earner” has not been made clear.

Senators also agreed not to proceed with an increase in federal minimum wage. It has sat at $7.25 an hour since 2009, and Democrats and advocates have been seeking to raise it to $15 by 2025.

Next, the resolution will go to the House, which is largely Democrat and therefore won’t require Republican votes to approve it. This vote is expected late Friday.

As it stands, the measure doesn’t have the force of law. Instead, this budget resolution paves the way for the next step: budget reconciliation. Budget resolution, the first step in the process that the Senate just completed, allows Congress to change taxes or spending with a simple majority vote — which the Senate has with Harris as the tie-breaker. Budget reconciliation will ultimately advance the plan without Republican votes.

Budget reconciliation was most recently used in 2017 by Republicans, who passed tax cuts for corporations and the ultra-rich.

The measure to not increase minimum wage was passed by voice vote, and Democrats did not defeat it. Even Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said he would not contest prohibiting the minimum wage increase during the pandemic because he never specifically sought to raise it during the pandemic.

Amendments proposed by Republicans that did not pass included measures to reduce funding to states like New York that are under investigation for COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes; limiting funding for schools that don’t hold in-person classes once teachers are vaccinated; and blocking funds from areas that don’t cooperate with federal law enforcement on immigration.

Two Republican amendments the Senate did pass involved a block on tax increases for small businesses during the pandemic and access to grants for restaurants and bars whose businesses were affected during the crisis. The Senate also agreed to prohibit stimulus checks going to undocumented immigrants — which was not part of Biden’s plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would still work on raising the minimum wage — just not in this particular COVID relief package.

“It’s not the last bill we’ll pass,” Ms. Pelosi said. “This is the rescue package.”

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