When the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed the House over the weekend, it cleared one of three massive legislative hurdles that it will need to clear before it reaches President Joe Biden’s desk. That’s the good news, but the bad news is that the next hurdle is the highest of them all, as all 50 Senate Democrats need to be in lockstep with one another to pass a bill that Republican lawmakers have universally declined to support.
The provision that was causing the most trouble among the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party was raising the federal minimum wage to $15, but the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the increase violated the Byrd rule of the budget reconciliation process, effectively ending an interparty battle before it began in earnest. Of course, nothing is easy in government, and now another fight might be brewing ahead of a Senate vote later this week.
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On Monday, a group of moderate Democrats met with President Biden to discuss the bill. Specifically, they want the money to be more targeted to those who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, even if that means adjusting the eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks that Biden promised to Americans who received a $600 stimulus check. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said they discussed “targeting dollars,” according to The Hill.
Before he was sworn in, Joe Biden promised that he would get stimulus checks out “immediately” if Georgia voted two Democrats into the Senate. More than a month later, Americans are still waiting for their checks, but the idea of taking those checks away from eligible people this late in the process would be problematic.
In the legislation that the House passed on Saturday, individuals making up to $75,000 would be eligible for the full $1,400, as would married couples making up to $150,000. Some Democrats believe that the ceiling is too high, and due to the 50-50 split in the Senate, even one “no” vote would be enough to sink the entire bill.
That’s not the only element of the bill being scrutinized by moderate Democrats, either. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), one of the most ardent opponents of the minimum wage hike, said that in addition to adjusting the eligibility of the stimulus checks, he also believes that the $350 billion for local, state, and territorial governments is too much, and said in an interview with Fox News that he thinks the final number will be lower. Furthermore, Manchin thinks $400 a week in additional unemployment insurance is too large a number, so there will be plenty for the Senate and President Biden to discuss before a vote expected to take place by the end of this week.
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