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Minimum wage hike all but dead in big COVID relief bill

Democrats’ efforts to include a minimum wage increase in their huge COVID-19 relief bill seem all but dead.

Posted: Mar 1, 2021 5:21 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats' efforts to include a minimum wage increase in their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill seemed all but dead Monday as Senate leaders prepared to begin debate on their own version of the House-passed aid package.

Top Democrats abandoned a potential amendment threatening tax increases on big companies that don't boost workers’ pay to certain levels, Senate aides said. Four days after the chamber's parliamentarian said Senate rules forbid inclusion of a straight-out minimum wage increase in the relief measure, Democrats seemed to have exhausted their most realistic options for quickly salvaging the pay hike.

“At this moment, we may not have path, but I hope we can find one” for pushing the federal pay floor to $15 an hour, said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.

Senate Democrats hope to unveil their version of the broad relief package and begin debate as early as Wednesday. Congressional leaders want to send President Joe Biden the legislation combating the pandemic and bolstering the economy by March 14, the date emergency jobless benefits that lawmakers approved in December expire.

The bill is Biden’s biggest early legislative priority. It looms as an initial test of his ability to unite Democrats in the Senate — where the party has no votes to spare — and risks lasting damage to his influence should he fail. Republicans are strongly against the legislation and could well oppose it unanimously, as House GOP lawmakers did when that chamber approved the bill early Saturday.

Biden discussed the relief bill Monday in a virtual meeting with nine Senate Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an opponent of the $15 hourly target. A White House statement said the group was “united in the goal of quickly passing a significant package that reflects the scope of the challenges our country is facing.”

The Senate is divided 50-50 between the parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast only tie-breaking votes. Under streamlined rules the Democrats are using, they can approve the legislation with just 51 votes.

The overall bill would provide $1,400 payments to individuals plus hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with children and states willing to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

Democrats are considering several changes in the House measure, but they seem modest compared to dropping the minimum wage increase. One top aide said the bill the Senate initially debates won’t have the minimum wage provision in it, saying the language would have pushed the bill over budget-mandated spending limits, violating Senate rules.

Senate Democrats may reshape the $350 billion the bill provides for state and local governments. They also might extend its fresh round of emergency unemployment benefits, which would be $400 weekly, through September instead of August, as the House approved.

The parliamentarian’s interpretation of Senate rules could force other changes as well. These might include dropping or altering provisions in the House bill providing billions of dollars to help some struggling pension plans and to help people who’ve lost jobs afford health insurance.

The House-approved minimum wage language would gradually raise the federal floor to $15 an hour by 2025, more than double the $7.25 in place since 2009.

After the parliamentarian said that provision would have to be deleted, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said they were working on plans to increase taxes on large corporations that don't meet certain levels for workers' pay. Sanders is chief Senate sponsor of the $15 plan, while Wyden is chair of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee.

But three Senate aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said Monday that party leaders were dropping those proposals.

It was always questionable whether pressuring companies with tax increases would win enough Democratic support to survive. The White House didn't endorse the tax proposals, which would have affected only a fraction of workers paid the minimum wage.

Raising the minimum has broad support among Democrats. But while it’s embraced passionately by the party’s progressives, at least two Senate moderates — Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have voiced opposition to including it in the broader relief measure, wounding its prospects and fostering tensions within the party.

The tepid Democratic reaction to the tax plan has left the party looking at potentially pushing a minimum wage increase in future legislation, where it could well face enough GOP opposition to kill it.

Democrats must now decide “how we do minimum wage as part of another piece of legislation or on its own,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

As an alternative, progressives want Senate Democrats to simply overrule the parliamentarian and include the pay raise anyway, or to eliminate Senate filibusters — procedural delays that let a minority party kill legislation that lacks at least 60 votes.

But those ideas seem to lack enough Democratic support to succeed. Senate moderates are wary of erasing procedures that the party has used in the past, and could use again, to protect its priorities when it is in the minority.

Among those who've long supported retaining the filibuster is Biden, who served nearly four decades in the Senate.

“The president’s view on the filibuster is well known. He has not changed that point of view," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said pointedly Monday.

Despite seeming White House opposition, nearly two dozen House progressives tried pressuring Biden to have Harris join Democratic senators and vote to override the parliamentarian and include the increase in the bill anyway.

“Outdated and complex" Senate rules “must not be an impediment to improving people’s lives,” the House members, led by Rep. Ro Khanna of California, wrote in a letter to Biden and Harris. “You have the authority to deliver a raise for millions of Americans.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 612701

Reported Deaths: 7761
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1270801803
Ramsey53350911
Dakota47466477
Anoka43482465
Washington27810296
Stearns22764227
St. Louis18353320
Scott17763139
Wright16615153
Olmsted13587104
Sherburne1218596
Carver1080349
Clay830792
Rice8300112
Blue Earth772844
Crow Wing691799
Kandiyohi673185
Chisago629955
Otter Tail592687
Benton588298
Goodhue487674
Douglas480881
Mower478834
Winona466452
Itasca463968
Isanti447567
McLeod436661
Morrison429562
Beltrami411863
Nobles411750
Steele401819
Polk391372
Becker390057
Lyon366454
Carlton357158
Freeborn353634
Pine338123
Nicollet335145
Mille Lacs316856
Brown309340
Le Sueur301228
Todd289633
Cass289133
Meeker267644
Waseca241823
Martin237633
Roseau212921
Wabasha20883
Hubbard198941
Dodge19173
Renville184246
Redwood178941
Houston176516
Cottonwood168224
Wadena165323
Fillmore160510
Faribault157820
Chippewa154438
Pennington154120
Kanabec148128
Sibley147710
Aitkin140237
Watonwan13629
Rock129919
Jackson123212
Pipestone117326
Yellow Medicine115620
Pope11416
Murray107710
Swift107718
Koochiching96919
Stevens92711
Clearwater89517
Marshall89017
Lake85121
Wilkin84613
Lac qui Parle76222
Big Stone6134
Grant5958
Lincoln5873
Mahnomen5669
Norman5519
Kittson49222
Unassigned49093
Red Lake4037
Traverse3835
Lake of the Woods3504
Cook1740

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 376815

Reported Deaths: 6122
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk59215646
Linn21567342
Scott20530250
Black Hawk16850320
Woodbury15378230
Johnson1479586
Dubuque13627215
Dallas1150699
Pottawattamie11393177
Story1092548
Warren594392
Clinton565894
Cerro Gordo564898
Webster546397
Sioux520574
Muscatine4956106
Marshall493679
Des Moines481776
Jasper454273
Wapello4402124
Buena Vista432340
Plymouth405782
Lee396958
Marion372378
Henry301737
Jones301357
Bremer294663
Carroll287252
Boone273735
Crawford273541
Benton264255
Washington261051
Dickinson251145
Mahaska235151
Jackson225943
Kossuth222166
Clay217927
Tama213872
Delaware213343
Winneshiek201337
Buchanan197834
Page195722
Cedar194323
Hardin192544
Wright191240
Hamilton189251
Fayette188943
Harrison182873
Clayton173258
Butler169135
Madison168019
Floyd165242
Mills164724
Cherokee162238
Lyon161241
Poweshiek159836
Allamakee156452
Hancock154034
Iowa149124
Winnebago147031
Calhoun144813
Cass142155
Grundy139733
Emmet137341
Jefferson135535
Sac133320
Shelby132238
Louisa130749
Union129535
Franklin129223
Appanoose128749
Mitchell127343
Chickasaw126017
Humboldt126026
Guthrie125332
Palo Alto115224
Montgomery106938
Howard105522
Clarke102624
Monroe101533
Keokuk100432
Ida93735
Adair90132
Davis88525
Pocahontas87022
Monona86731
Greene80011
Osceola79517
Lucas78323
Worth7648
Taylor67112
Decatur6649
Fremont64910
Van Buren57318
Ringgold57124
Wayne56623
Audubon53613
Adams3504
Unassigned80
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