House Democrats are set to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in a Friday evening vote, a key step toward injecting a fresh round of stimulus into the nation's pandemic-stricken economy.
Democrats in both chambers plan to approve the bill using a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation, which allows them to pass the measure without any Republican support. Lawmakers are rushing to send the legislation to Biden's desk by March 14, when key unemployment aid programs for millions are set to expire.
The proposal contains a third $1,400 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000 annually, increases jobless benefits to $400 a week through the end of August, expands the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child, includes $350 billion for state and local government funding and allocates $170 billion for K-12 schools and higher education institutions to cover reopening costs.
The bill would also gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025, a provision that will almost certainly be excluded from the Senate version after the parliamentarian ruled late Thursday night that raising the pay floor is not compliant with budget reconciliation rules.
The finding by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate's nonpartisan referee, dealt a major blow to liberal lawmakers, who have tried for years to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and viewed Biden's relief package as the best avenue to do so.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president is "disappointed" by the ruling but "respects the parliamentarian’s decision and the Senate’s process." The House bill will keep the $15 wage provision, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
"House Democrats believe that the minimum wage hike is necessary," she said.
Even if the parliamentarian had allowed it, the minimum wage increase was already a long shot in the Senate: Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, two of the party's most moderate members, have signaled they do not support increasing the pay floor as part of a broader COVID-19 relief effort.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn't risen since 2009.
Most Republicans are expected to vote against the massive spending measure, which will push the nation's already staggering debt to nearly $30 trillion if passed. Congress already passed about $4 trillion in relief measures under former President Donald Trump, pushing the deficit to a record $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020 — which doesn't include the $900 billion relief package lawmakers approved in December.
GOP lawmakers have questioned the need for another $2 trillion, accusing their liberal colleagues of using the bill as means of passing a "Democratic wish list."
"This one is not a bill that would focus on what Republicans want to about putting us back to work, back to school, back to health," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told "Fox & Friends" on Thursday. "This bill is actually too costly, too corrupt, and too liberal."
One analysis by the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget found that more than 15% of the proposed package — about $300 billion — will go toward long-standing policy priorities that are "not directly related to the current crisis." Roughly 1% of the spending will go toward accelerating vaccine distribution, and just 5% is focused on public health needs, according to the nonpartisan group.
"The goal of COVID relief is to end the pandemic, protect incomes, and support the economic recovery," Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement. "The House bill not only spends far more than is needed to achieve these goals, but also puts too many of these plentiful dollars in the wrong places.
But Democrats have defended the massive spending proposal, arguing the economy is still a far way from its pre-crisis level, with unemployment officially at 6.3%. There are roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were last year in February.
"Everything is not fixed," Biden said Thursday. "We have a long way to go. And that day, when everything gets back to normal, depends on all of us. It depends on Congress passing the American Recovery Act."